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‘Helpline’ for Ontario farm families


May 9, 2008
By Debra Pretty-Straathof

ofa_logoMay 9, 2008, Guelph, Ont. — Because agriculture is in a
constant state of flux – some good times and some bad times – farmers
have found benefit in having peer counselling services available,
especially for the bad times.

May 9, 2008, Guelph, Ont. — Because agriculture is in a constant state of flux – some good times and some bad times – farmers have found benefit in having peer counselling services available, especially for the bad times. The Farm Help Line was created in 2000 to help with family stresses resulting from the eastern ice storm of 1998, and tough economic challenges for pork producers at that time. While some sectors have recently enjoyed the benefits of higher returns, there continues to be difficult times for pork, beef, horticultural and tobacco producers.
ofa_logoThe Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs has acknowledged the need for the type of counselling provided by the volunteers at The Farm Line. Recently a grant of $200,000 was provided by OMAFRA to help enhance the telephone service, provide additional training for the volunteers and assist with organizational development and strategic planning.
The board of directors that administers the service will soon be enlarged to better represent the agricultural community. To do this, we will be calling on agricultural partners in the commodity sectors, especially from the pork, beef, tobacco and horticulture, to join us for a strategic planning exercise in the near future.
Our new funding requires a new budget for the service, and a renewed effort to reach those in need of the service. The toll-free and bilingual Farm Help Line offers peer-to-peer emotional support and referrals to mentoring, and advisory services that deal with farm family dynamics as well as legal and financial issues.
The volunteers ensure that callers are aware of the regular services provided by OMAFRA, when appropriate.
I serve as interim chair of that board. Working with me are:
• Past chairperson Denis St. Pierre.
• Secretary Martin Oldengarm of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario.
• Kim Delaney of the National Farmers’ Union Ontario.
• Heidi Wagner, a rural health advisor.
We have a dedicated roster of volunteers answering the incoming phone calls – people with a strong background in agriculture and its complexity of issues, and training for the often-difficult task of assisting those in distress.
Although the service operates with volunteers, there are expenses that require cash support. The organization was incorporated in 2004. It received charitable status in 2005. Memberships and donations provide the bulk of the organization’s funding along with OMAFRA’s yearly contributions.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture believes the Farm Help Line organization should be recognized by the government as a social service, and funded similar to so many other social services in Ontario. The factors of stress and financial counselling dealt with by the organization responds directly to serious health issues that can result from exposure to the difficulties farm families encounter on a regular basis.
The OMAFRA grant is appreciated, but doesn’t give the organizers of the Farm Help Line service the stability it needs for long-term service planning.
Farmers have always wanted to be able to survive on the economic success of their industry, but realistically we know there will be times in the future when one sector or another will be suffering. When this happens, the farm families involved in the unfortunate sectors will surely need the type of support provided by the Farm Help Line.
Faced with this reality, OFA and its commodity partners will continue to seek full-time funding from the provincial government for the Farm Help Line service. The toll-free number for the service is 888-451-2903.

Debra Pretty-Straathof is a member of the executive committee of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.

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