Return of S.H.E.D. Talks launches at Four Winds Barn with a mental health focus
BY SCOTT STEPHENSON
The Four Winds Barn in Brussels is a beautiful venue for any celebratory event. On Friday, Dec. 1, the exquisitely detailed facility hosted a community gathering celebrating an increased focus on the mental health and wellness of those working in the area’s most prominent industry: agriculture. The event was created with a simple purpose in mind: strengthening local social connections through conversations, coffee, cookies and candour. There was also a lunch catered by Hensall’s Pineridge BBQ.
Gwen Devereaux, president of the board of directors at Gateway Centre of Excellence in Rural Health (CERH), welcomed the large gathering of community members. The day’s auspicious occasion was the launch of the second year of CERH’s new initiative - Sustaining Healthy Farms Through Empowerment and Dedication (SHED) Talks. SHED Talks are designed to positively impact the mental health and well-being of agricultural workers, who can struggle with the often isolating and almost always stressful nature of their profession. Devereaux said CERH looks at all the issues around rural health and concluded that the health and well-being of farmers is rightfully one of its highest priorities.
Huron-Bruce MPP and Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Lisa Thompson, remarking on the venue, said “this has to be the most elegant ‘shed’ in Huron County.” Thompson continued, “When we have gatherings like this, we’re thinking about our agriculture and food industry, not only from a production perspective, but a people perspective as well.” Minister Thompson commended CERH for its SHED initiative and stressed the importance of the organization’s continued efforts.
Huron County Warden Glen McNeil, joined on stage by his grandson Clark, addressed the crowd of farmers, agronomists, journalists, dignitaries, friends and family. “One of the most important attributes of Huron County is that we care for each other, we look out for each other and we’ll be there for each other. And today is a very important day.” McNeil spoke about the vast talent and intelligence possessed by CERH’s team and that Huron County would greatly benefit if any one of them decided to further pursue local employment in the healthcare field. McNeil, tasked with the introduction of the event’s first guest speaker Peter Johnson a.k.a. “Wheat Pete”, concluded, “I would like to leave my comments with a quote of Peter’s and that is: ‘there is nothing like a good discussion on crops to help reset your brain and recharge both your crop thoughts and your mental health.’”
Farmer/Agronomist/Podcaster “Wheat Pete” Johnson is a dynamic, engaging and charismatic speaker who is clearly passionate about his subject matter. His “Talking Crops” presentation felt like a well-paced conversation with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic friend. Johnson encouraged farmers present to celebrate themselves for tremendous advancements in feeding the world’s growing population, but also cautioned against taking extra credit for crop yield gains that may actually be the result of a changing climate. True to his nickname, Johnson advocated heavily in favour of growing wheat. He entertained all questions and skillfully steered the discussion back to the topic of crops whenever it veered, however slightly, into the political realm.
OPP Officer and farmer from St. Marys Kevin Bilyea followed with a presentation on farm vehicle safety. Devereaux jokingly introduced Bilyea by saying, “Anyone who has any outstanding warrants, you can make a run for it. Exits are out there, go now!”
Wearing his OPP uniform, Bilyea began, “Road safety is not very exciting, until it is, right?” With the dual perspective of being a farmer and a police officer, Bilyea addressed several areas of road safety that he believes could be improved by farm vehicle operators. He reminded the audience of an important distinction between what you “can” do and what you are “allowed” to do on Ontario roadways.
The final speaker of the morning program was retired farmer Tom Melady, who candidly discussed his experience with clinical depression in 1992. Melady said stress and isolation contributed to his deteriorating psychological state at that time. He listed some of the often contradictory stressors that contribute to poor mental health in farming. “The beans were too dry or they were too wet… the veal calves were too heavy or they were too light. You’re not filling your quota. You’re over quota… and no one said, ‘Thank you. You’re doing a good job.’ And that’s what I’m saying to you today. You’re doing a good job.”
Afterwards, Johnson, Bilyea and Melady engaged in a panel discussion moderated by McNeil, fielding a variety of questions from the relaxed, reflective assembly.
Before breaking for lunch, Devereaux thanked everyone for their participation in the SHED Talk. She reminded the room that CERH offers additional mental health resources to anyone in need.
The Four Winds Barn is an amazing example of local pride in the area’s agricultural history being adapted into something that better serves the community of today and tomorrow. At last Friday’s SHED Talk, you could also see that on the faces of everyone in attendance.