Rank workers: these valuable resources

Travailleurs de rang: ces ressources précieuses

Let us say it and repeat it to ourselves: the pandemic has forced us to review our priorities, of course, but above all it weighs heavily on the mind.

However, our producers have known psychological distress since long before the arrival of the famous virus. And although it is still a sometimes taboo subject, its effects are very real. Realize: the suicide rate is twice as high among agricultural producers as in the general population. We are talking about almost 51% of farmers who live with a high level of psychological distress in Quebec. More than worrying figures.

Interview with Martine Fraser , Mauricie rank-and-file worker for the organization At the heart of agricultural families (ACFA) .

Martine Fraser, rank worker

What does a rank worker consist of?

It is a help resource, specialized in agricultural areas. We are really here to equip farmers, regardless of the problem they are experiencing. The agricultural sector is so complex that it is multi-problematic: there is stress linked to work overload, finances, climatic conditions, conflicts with the next generation or with the family, or even problems of violence. The spectrum we cover is very broad.

So you're like a social worker actually?

My job is to be on the front line, preventatively and proactively. I am trained in communication and violence problems, but if the issues go beyond my area of ​​expertise, I will look for professionals to refer to better support the person.

Do you cover all of Quebec?

Currently, we cover 10 regions. But if necessary, we share the work. Let's say that a producer does not have a professional worker in his region, he will not be left in the lurch.

What is the process? Who contacts who?

We work a lot by references. Sometimes it's a worried neighbor who calls us to warn us and let us intervene. There is real solidarity between producers. Otherwise, it is veterinarians who refer us, or even people from MAPAQ for example. Everyone is our eyes and ears.

Other times, it's the producers who call for themselves. That's encouraging, because these are people who generally have trouble seeking help. Only a third of producers call for themselves, that's very little.

What are the predominant issues?

The most common psychological distresses are work overload and financial distress. Producers work a lot for financial insecurity which just doesn't make sense. With the climate disruption of recent years, there is a lot of money lying dormant in the field, and the government does not reimburse 100% of these losses. The risks to be assumed are enormous, and farmers bear them alone.

“It makes no sense that those who get up every morning to feed humanity live with such a level of stress and isolation.”

But during the pandemic, has the resurgence in buying local made a difference?

During the pandemic I heard a lot about “public recognition”. I have the impression that the craze for buying local has run out of steam. Many were forced to throw away milk at the start of the pandemic, or to euthanize pigs. This is what is difficult in the current context for our producers. They have to juggle a whole bunch of factors, over which they have very little control, hoping that “things will go well”.

What is the “surplus value” of the rank and file worker?

What makes all the difference is that rank-and-file workers are generally people who have been immersed in the agricultural environment. It ensures credibility, it inspires confidence in producers. The beauty of this job is that we adapt to them! With the pandemic it's more complicated but in general, we could walk around the farms, help the producer in the fields, calve their cow, or even do the train. We take the time we're given, even if the producer is at work. Our approach is very flexible, which is also what creates the strength of the network. When we understand the reality of the profession and have experienced the same, people have more confidence in opening up and there, we can develop a bond and really help.

Do you think mental health among our farmers is still a taboo subject?

I think there is a certain awareness that is raised with our travels. People know we exist. Then, collectively, we put more and more emphasis on the importance of talking, of naming when things are not going well. Taboos are quietly broken, then we feel it.

A message you would like to convey?

I really want people to know that they can count on the fact that we are there, and to never hesitate. No matter where you are in Quebec, there is someone for you somewhere. Prevention, we do it in our stables, we do it in our fields, why not do it with our health?

If you are feeling distress or stress, or if someone you know is going through difficult times, don't wait to seek help. The ACFA responds to all requests throughout Quebec, free of charge and confidentially. Contact 450 768-6995.

Directory of rank-and-file workers At the heart of farming families

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