By Heather Cameron
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Since March 2023, the Farm Family Outreach Program offered by FCSS has been connecting farmers, their families, and other members of the agricultural community to support and resources that can help improve their mental health and wellbeing.
“Through this program, the agricultural community is able to access system navigation support, free counselling, and presentations about mental health on the farm,” Kori Kuryvial, the Farm Family Outreach Coordinator for FCSS, said.
Since March, Kuryvial says, the Farm Family Outreach team has spent their time promoting the project to rural southern Alberta through presentations, setting up tables at local farmers markets, and attending community events. The team, Kuryvial says, is funded by the Canadian Red Cross and Public Health Agency of Canada.
Kuryvial says that the team, which includes herself and Farm Family Outreach Worker Lorena Ahmadi, was invited to the Alberta Milk Conference where they spoke to over 100 farmers on how to recognize signs of mental illness and how to de-stigmatize asking for help.
The Farm Family Outreach Team, Kuryvial says, also presented at the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation Conference at the University of Lethbridge to discuss how to cope with transitioning on and off the farm, including retiring from the farm or taking over a family farm.
“There are many other factors that can lead to chronic stress and/or mental illness when it comes to working and living on a farm,” Ahmadi said. “This includes working long hours, financial worries, plant pests, livestock diseases, isolation, accidents or deaths on the farm, and family conflict on the farm. These factors are often outside of farmers’ control and can cause higher stress and anxiety. These issues can then lead to substance abuse and other unhealthy coping mechanisms.”
With this in mind, Kuryvial says, the Farm Family Outreach Team has been working to break down barriers that prevent people from reaching out for help by promoting this program. FCSS also continues to offer resources to help farmers and their families cope with various stressors and to connect with counsellors if needed, Kuryvial says.
“The Farm Family Outreach team’s awareness campaign has been successful, as over 300 farmers or individuals supporting the agricultural community have accessed the program,” Ahmadi said. “This program is particularly relevant this year since the region has experienced a severe drought. The drought was so extreme, in fact, that the Municipal District of Taber Council voted to declare an agricultural disaster, which was the third consecutive year that the Municipal District of Taber has made this declaration.”
Kuryvial says that this summer, the Farm Family Outreach team also connected with women on the farm to learn more about the challenges and joys that they experience on the farm. The staff, Kuryvial said, hosted a ‘Coffee Break for Women in Farming’ program that allowed women to connect with one another, reduce feelings of isolation, and take a break from the busy farm life. These breaks are crucial for good mental health.
“After speaking to the women who attended this program, the staff learned that women on the farm work so hard for their families, their farms, and their communities and deserve recognition and celebration,” Kuryvial said.
With that in mind, Kuryvial says that FCSS has decided to host a ‘Celebrating Women in Farming Conference’ on Thursday, October 12 at the Readymade Hall. The event, Kuryvial says, will include a keynote address from Billi J. Miller, an avid storyteller, and an Albertan author.
“Drawing from dozens of interviews with women in farming telling their stories, Billi’s keynote will highlight the remarkable roles of women and the extraordinary life that family farms have to offer,” Ahmadi said.
The event, Ahmadi says, will also feature a catered lunch, childcare (up to 18 spots), a leadership session, and relaxation stations, which will include mini-massages and a few other self-care options that will help women relax after a busy farm season.
To register for the ‘Celebrating Women in Farming Conference,’ contact Kaitlynn Weaver at (403) 795-4627. There are only 60 spots available, Kuryvial says, and each ticket costs $30.
Kuryvial says that based on the many conversations that FCSS staff have had with the agricultural community, the Farm Family Outreach program, in collaboration with FCSS Counselling Services, will also be offering a grief support group for farmers who have experienced a death on the farm.
The group, Kuryvial says, is free to attend and begins Thursday, October 19 at the Coaldale FCSS, located at 2107 13 Street.
“This group will help individuals process their grief with others who understand what they are going through,” Kuryvial said.
To register for this program, contact Tanie Reid-Walker at 587-370-0215 or Tanie.email@example.com.
“We recognize how much pressure can be put on families by uncontrollable events like weather, and we are here to help build resiliency by de-stigmatizing mental health supports,” Kuryvial said. “FCSS is also here to remind farm families how valued they are and that there is support available to them.”
For more information about the Farm Family Outreach project and its many supports and services, please contact Kori Kuryvial at firstname.lastname@example.org or (403) 915-8803. For Counselling Services, contact Michael Fedunec at (587) 370-3728 or email@example.com. For more information about FCSS and its many programs and services, please visit our website at www.fcss.ca.
“Ultimately, the Farm Family Outreach program is here for farmers because they’re here for us,” Kuryvial says. “They keep this region fed and we are here to support them on their farming journey.”