Local Agriculture

Stress on the farm: Joe Callahan talks at Harvest Hastings dinner

Written and delivered by Joe Callahan, November 2016, at the Harvest Hastings AGM.

Thanks to Louise Livingstone for inviting me to talk and for allowing Pete (Snell) and I do what we love best, play music. Kind a singing for our supper, which as a farm kid like I was, is far better than doing the chores.

I’d like to recognize some of the important people in the room: all of you if you are farmers or make your living helping the rest of us live.

I understand that we have also have some of our local political leaders here. Thanks for being here Mike Bossio MP, Todd Smith MLA, and local counselors.

Louise asked me to talk about family farms, speaking with one voice politically and the challenges currently facing the agriculture sector.

In 1975, after a stint working in retail in the northwest (Thompson Manitoba), and just before I started to work at Loyalist College, I vowed to try to tell the story of family farms. I started this project then in concept, and it continues as a primarily photographic thing, with accompanying words. Better Farming magazine has published excerpts from it over the years. What I have learned in visiting families on farms across Ontario is that regardless of the difficulties that each family faced, that family’s survival depended on the love, support and the shared work ethic that exists in each of those farming families. And I learned that the common problem that each farm family faces is uncertainty.

year….willI go into more debt and add more uncertainty in my already uncertain situation?

Uncertainty…

Canada’s political system is the worst in the world, except for every other (to steal from Winston Churchill). And as good as it is, when we go through a federal election like this most recent one, we see the politics of divisiveness and divisiveness contributes to uncertainty. And what we know is that divisiveness is the opposite of what is needed. We need to come together and work, struggle, laugh and cry together. Events such as this one and organizations such as Harvest Hastings bring people together.

Many things divide us, not just politics.

Surely farmers are among the most solitary workers on the planet, hours each day working alone in the field, in the barn, on the tractor. This solitary lifestyle has lead to what one researcher is suggesting to be the next public issue for farmers; depression, anxiety, stress and most tragic of all, suicide.

I can’t tell you how many times I had to drag my depressed ass out of bed and take it to my cushy job as a college “professor” where the most uncertainty I might have to face is just how uninspired my students were going to be because it was obvious I had to drag my ass out of bed in the first place. I didn’t have to face sick calves, or rainy days when I needed to be drawing in hay, or drought conditions when my crops needed rain.

Uncertainty plagues us all. But in my cushy job, when I had a lousy day, my saving grace was my family and the community around it. I knew then and I know now, that the love and support of my family sees me through all troubles.

When I talk to researchers like Dr. Jones-Bitton about the stress and worry that farmers endure, I wonder if farmers have lost that sense of togetherness that a family offers, that a community supports and that politicians need to nurture in policy-making.

Yes I’m a tree hugger, yes I’m mouthpiece media guy with a distant memory of my childhood on a family farm, and yes I have learned the language of the bureaucrat from working in the post-secondary education, but I have not lost sight of the essence of what the farming community provides for the world.

What concerns me now is whether or not farmers realize how much they contribute and how much they are valued. Not just by me, by everyone I know.

Please farmers: do your work proudly and with the steadfast conviction that you always have. Speak your mind to any and all and know that you are loved.

And you politicians in the audience whether your issue is the TPP, or windmills, or cow shit flowing downstream, keep listening and know that your job is to make sure that farmers will be heard, supported and yes, loved.