FCC’s ‘Ignite’ events target younger farmers

Farm Credit Canada’s knowledge events target producers under 40 this year because of changing demographics

There was little grey hair in evidence at the Feb. 6 Farm Credit Canada young farmer summit, one of 11 similar events organized across the country.

The events, dubbed “Ignite,” are designed to engage farmers younger than 40 with speakers who discuss communication, technology, mental health and entrepreneurship.

“We haven’t been IDing anyone at the door. Anyone who’s young at heart is who we were targeting today,” said FCC district director Steven Harris.

“We’ve been hosting knowledge events for the agriculture community for a number of years. We wanted this year to really focus in on the young farmers just because of the importance of some of the changes that are happening in the industry, the changing of demographics and the number of new farmers that are getting involved in agriculture was a chance for us to really focus in on the young farmers for this particular series of speaking events.”

The last census showed an increase in the number of farmers younger than 35, the first increase in that demographic since 1991.

FCC hosted four Ignite events in 2018, held two in February (Lethbridge and Chatham, Ont.) and has more western Canadian events planned in Winnipeg (March 14), Langley, B.C. (March 21) and Saskatoon (March 28).

“The response has been fantastic,” said Harris.

“We’ve got lots of young producers and people involved in agribusiness that have come today and have registered for our other events, and the feedback has been fantastic so far.”

As agriculture becomes more complex, it’s important to provide young farmers with information so they can make good management decisions in the future, he added.

Stuart Knight, an entrepreneur and professional speaker, had the lead-off presentation at the Lethbridge event, describing how to have powerful conversations and develop positive relationships.

Knight is the author of two books: You Should Have Asked and The Madness of My Mind.

Jesse Hirsh, futurist and digital strategist, talked about the benefits and perils of technology, touching on farmers’ right to their data, the right-to-repair movement and various myths about artificial intelligence.

Maintenance of mental health is a theme at this round of Ignite events.

Dr. Amir Georges Sabongui, a psychologist, stress expert and former commander in the Canadian navy, spoke on that topic in Lethbridge.

“The military is also an area where people are very reluctant to talk about mental health, and so I understand it in agriculture,” Sabongui said in an interview.

“There’s a context where people try to be tough and suck it up and do it on their own. And so I try to break these walls of silence.”

In years past, people survived hard times in agriculture by sticking together and relying on the strength of community. Some of that has been lost, he said.

“I think we need to go back to that: break the walls of silence; reconnect with our communities; when we see somebody struggling, to not just offer help but actually reach over, reach in, grab the person … let them know that they’re not alone.

“People who are struggling don’t want to be a burden, so they’re going to isolate themselves. So offering help is maybe not even good enough. You need to show up.”

Sabongui talks more about mental injury than about mental illness. He said anybody can have a mental injury and can recover from it with rest and with help.

“I think seeing it as an injury helps us recover a lot faster,” he said. “Everybody talks about mental illness.… It makes people think of serious disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Mental illness is a disease you’re going to have for the rest of your life, but a mental health injury, it can happen to everybody.”

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