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April 26, 2024

It’s time for Doug Ford to support Ontario’s true

to life Supermen and Superwomen

Recently, one evening, I was working from home, catching up on some reading and making notes after enjoying a meeting with several representatives from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. We covered various issues that farmers and the agricultural sector face today. Over the years, I have enjoyed many opportunities to connect with several prominent farming associations. It was definitely time well spent, as the discussion helped me better connect with the industry’s realities.

Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the cornfield.” Like many Ontarians, I have long recognized farmers as unsung heroes of our society. Farmers are recognized for their toughness and determination to put food on our tables, no matter what conditions Mother Nature or the economy throws at them. Farmers have a long-standing, well-earned reputation for being creative, resilient, and strong guardians of the land that feeds the world.

But you know what? When you are a fourth or even fifth generation of a farm family legacy, the pressure to appear successful, stoic and robust can be daunting. After all, farming is more than an occupation. For many, it is a heritage. It’s expected of you. When you know your parents and generations even before them have handed down a successful, sustainable, productive farm to you, there is tremendous pressure to thrive.

One issue that is of great concern to Ontario farmers is vanishing farms. Ontario’s productive farmland is a scarce resource, making up less than five percent of all the land in the province. The CBC reported that census data shows that, in Ontario alone, a whopping 319 acres of good farmland vanishes daily for urban development. Think about that. That means 2,233 acres of good arable land are lost forever, week after week. Land that helps to feed a world population of over 8 billion people. The loss statistics do not include the totals of other provinces or nations. And when a farm vanishes, so does a farm family, maybe even a proud legacy.

Another stressor for farmers is that they are subject to high rates of accidents on public roads and highways. Every year, Ontario sees more cars on the road as the population grows, and more people commute further and further to get to work or school each day as our cities expand. Government statistics show that slow-moving farm vehicles are up to nearly 5 times more likely to be involved in a fatal collision per kilometre of roadway than any other type of motor vehicle. I would not like those odds if it were me.

Ontario Provincial Police statistics show farm vehicle accidents are primarily the result of rollovers, which occur while entering, exiting, or crossing roadways or veering off the shoulder. These high accident rates are of genuine concern for farmers. If they are hurt or killed, who will be left to care for the farm and feed the family? More stress on the farmer and the family.

These are just a few examples of newer stresses that have been accumulating in addition to those of the past. And the list certainly doesn’t stop there.

There are many more concerns than there were one or two generations ago. Noticeable climate and environmental changes and newer stresses - ones that individual farmers have no control over. There are more droughts, more floods, and less snow accumulation than generations ago.

A CBC News report dated November 1, 2023, stated, “The nature of agriculture is risky and leaves the livelihoods of farmers vulnerable, either to the weather or whims of market forces beyond their control. Consecutive years of poor crop yields, livestock epidemics or unexpected equipment breakdowns can deliver unexpected financial blows that leave many feeling trapped.”

Mental stress for farmers and their families has been rampantly increasing. Yet, it seems to go almost unnoticed in our society. It seems that we just expect that no matter what punch in the gut farm families receive, at the end of the day, they will be standing on their own two feet just as they have always done. This is partially because farm families are not on our doorstep. Unlike urban areas, where we might hear and see evidence of nearby families suffering due to mental stresses, people in rural areas may not even be able to see their next-door neighbour. They live in smaller rural communities, kind of out of sight and out of mind.

Despite all of the improvements through education and dialogue, a stigma remains on mental illness. Unfortunately, farming is one of those lifestyles that is almost impossible to grasp unless you wear those boots. Of course, there are age-old worries about suitable weather conditions, crop and animal disease and commodity prices when it comes to harvest. Then, of course, they have to be concerned with government-regulated quotas, tariffs and trade issues.

In recent years, many studies have been conducted, revealing shocking statistics. One such study by the University of Guelph, well known for its agricultural studies and programs, conducted a poll of 1,000 farmers across Canada and found that “57 percent met the criteria for anxiety, 34 percent for depression, and 62 percent experienced psychological distress.”

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture has reported that before the pandemic, one in eight farmers said they didn’t know if life was worth living anymore. That number has skyrocketed to one in 4 farmers expressing the same views. Imagine! Do you think that if you polled your friends and neighbours in more urban areas, one in four would question if their lives were worth living? I highly doubt that would be the case.

Why are farmers facing greater risks today than ever before? Here are a few causal factors published by the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

  • Financial uncertainty

  • Barriers to mental health services

  • Isolation

  • Blurred distinction between work and home life

  • Weather

  • Government regulations

  • Commodity prices

  • Culture of the resilient, strong farmer

  • Public perception and stigmatization of farming

  • Family conflicts

  • Long hours

  • Machinery breakdowns

Unfortunately, the Ford government’s record for effectively addressing mental health issues is dismal, to say the least. Do a quick headline search for mental health issues, and the list of inadequate funding and other criticisms is seemingly endless. The Province of Ontario must do more in the area of preventative and restorative mental health support. 

Thankfully, more and more studies on agricultural mental health are taking place, and mental health professionals and agricultural-based organizations and associations are working together to bring about change. They are calling for improved mental health programs to support farmers specifically. It is only now beginning to be recognized that we have failed to consider that farmers live in rural and often more remote locations. It may take them hours or even a whole day to travel where services are available. And don’t forget that internet access in rural and remote communities is eons behind that of more populated areas. Therefore, video conferencing is not even viable in many instances.

Where do we go from here?

First and foremost, bring the issue of agricultural mental health out of the shadows through dialogue and education. Ontarians must acknowledge the problem and start to develop and fund the necessary resources.

Secondly, it is essential that helpful resources be made available right where people live, not hours or days away from home. Farming families can’t afford to take time off or pay travel expenses any more than other Ontario families can.

Finally, promote, educate and normalize Ontarians to understand that all of us are susceptible to the mounting pressures of the economy, environment, society and regulatory demands. No one is immune to such influences, not even farmers.

To conclude, I encourage readers to bring the image of Superman – the great Man of Steel himself -  to mind. (A character created by Canadian Joseph Shuster, I might add.) Think of him standing atop some building, his bulging biceps and abs of steel, and his cape rippling in the wind. What a terrific icon for youngsters to imagine. If you recall, strong as he was, he had vulnerabilities. Remember Kryptonite? Superman wasn’t real, of course. Nonetheless, he represented something good in society. In some ways, we might consider farmers as true-to-life supermen. We count on our farmers to put food on our tables 365 days a year. We count on them to be the guardians of the land and animals that feed us. Therefore, we can also respect and hold high the image and ideals of our stalwart, resilient, hardworking farmers because, for the whole world, they are true Supermen and Superwomen.

Next week, News from the Park will continue examining one of the most worrisome stressors listed above playing out in Wilmot Township. It seems our Supermen and Superwomen have reached their limit with governments and bureaucracy and are making themselves heard. Stay tuned.

As always, I invite you to contact my office about these issues or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at or call Toll-free 1-800-831-1899.

Michael Mantha, MPP


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