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Women and Girls: Thunder Bay-area farmer leads the Ont. Federation of Agriculture for another year

Peggy Brekveld welcomes a new program to support farmers' mental health.
Peggy Brekveld three

THUNDER BAY — Murillo dairy farmer Peggy Brekveld has won the confidence of members of the 38,000-member Ontario Federation of Agriculture for the second straight year.

Brekveld has been re-elected head of the OFA, the largest general farm organization in the province.

It's rare for a farmer from northern Ontario to hold the post.

In 2020, Brekveld was recognized as one of six Influential Women in Canadian Agriculture.

An OFA statement says she's proven to be a strong female role model and has advocated passionately for diversity, equity and inclusion, farmland preservation, broadband expansion, mental health and promoting a strong food value chain in Ontario.

Brekveld said she appreciates the support of the OFA board which re-elected the entire executive committee.

2021 has been a hard year for farmers in Northwestern Ontario in particular, due to a prolonged drought.

The OFA and other groups lobbied vigorously for relief funding from the government, which responded with support for getting feed and improving water-source infrastructure.

"We were very happy about that," Brekveld told TBNewswatch in an interview Wednesday.

She also pointed to federal and Ontario government funding just recently announced for mental health services for farmers.

More than $7 million goes to the Guardians Network, a new program that will provide free counselling services and help connect at-risk farmers and their families with tailored support and resources.

Ontario Agriculture Minister Lisa Thompson noted the stress from running a farm 365 days a year while dealing with unpredictable weather, commodity prices and increasing production costs. 

Brekveld said one component of the program will see training for people who interact with farmers to act as "guardians" in the farming community.

She said these individuals will be able to recognize the signs when people are struggling.

"Farming is a business that has a lot of influencers and things that are out of our control. The drought is an example of extreme pressure on an industry that really does care about its animals, its crops, and the soil that we work on."

Brekveld added that farming can at times be an isolating business.

"You work on the land or simply with with your family or on your own.  We want to ensure that when we have conversations we look out for each other. That's what community is."

OFA priorities next year include continuing to work on farmland preservation, addressing labour needs through the entire food chain, and mitigating climate change.

Brekveld said the impact of altered weather patterns is now "very real" in farmers' lives. 

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