WESTLOCK – Westlock-and-area farmers gathered for an evening to recognize and thank them for all they do.
The third-annual Farmer’s Appreciation Night, hosted by the Soul Sisters Memorial Foundation Jan. 20 at the Westlock and District Community Hall, brought together 280 people including many area farmers, to show support, share a meal, enjoy door prizes and local entertainment by artist Ryan Snow and hear an important message from keynote speaker Megz Reynolds of the Do More Agriculture Foundation.
“Our farmers are an important part of our community. They always find a way to support Soul Sisters,” said Foundation president Christine Vachon, noting donations of hand-knit toques, door prizes and silent auction items for their fundraising events throughout the year.
Vachon herself grew up on a farm and knows how important it is to support local farmers, and said she understands the difficulty some may have in opening up and talking to someone. “A lot have a hard time asking for help if they are struggling.”
Chris Rottier operated a dairy farm just northwest of town for many years, before he retired and passed on the operation to his son Simeon. Although he no longer runs the family farm, he still plays an important role in offering support to his son and helping out. with other farm duties like driving combines and trucks.
Rottier has attended the event in past years, and said it is a great way for folks to connect and “is very helpful.”
“I’m really happy they’re doing this, this (event) is a really good thing,” said Rottier. “As farmers we push ourselves quite hard and we put ourselves in vulnerable states and so this really helps us to get together.”
Reaching out for help and letting farmers know they have supports, was part of the message shared by Reynolds.
“We really work to bring awareness to mental health in Canadian agriculture, break the stigma surrounding mental health in Canadian agriculture, create community around it, make sure people can access the resources that are out there and help fill the gaps when they exist,” said Reynolds.
A former grain farmer from southwestern Saskatchewan, Reynolds now lives in Diamond Valley, south of Calgary. She shared an important message about mental health supports that are available today and pointed that a 2021 survey by the University of Guelph found that “one in four Canadian producers felt like their life was not worth living, wished that they were dead or contemplated taking their own life in the last 12 months.”
“For me, that really talks about the mental health of our farmers. You don’t have resiliency if you’re not in a place where your battery’s full and you’re taking care of your mental health and wellness,” said Reynolds, noting several factors can affect farmers’ mental health that many are facing.
“You’re not alone. Check in on each other and reach out for help. That can seem really scary, it can seem like a weakness but it’s not. It’s one of the hardest, bravest things you can do.”