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Farm safety rally nixed for a second year

Heidi Wagner of the Woolwich Community Health Centre has been forced to cancel the farm rally again this year. [Damon MacLean]

Cancelled last year after more than half a century, the annual St. Jacobs farm safety rally has again fallen victim to the pandemic.

While Canadian Agricultural Safety Week arrives as of Sunday, there won’t be the traditional in-person event, says organizer Heidi Wagner, a rural community health worker with the Woolwich Community Health Centre (WCHC).

“We’ve always had it for more than 50 years. It’s been here at the community centre, at The Lions Hall here in St. Jacobs, and our audience consists of a lot of local rural families, many of which would be Old Order Mennonites and conservative Mennonites. So, a virtual presentation is not conducive to that audience, because they really don’t have access to a lot of computers and internet and those sorts of modern equipment. It really is something that we can only do in person,” she said of why there was no transition to an online forum, as with some other events.

The same barriers have made it difficult for WCHC to carry out many of its programs with rural residents of the townships, Wagner added.

While the pandemic and resultant public health guidelines have restricted public gatherings such as the rally, there are pressing issues raised during Canadian Agricultural Safety Week that need to be shared nonetheless, she said. In particular, there are growing concerns about mental health and children’s safety given that people have been spending more time isolated at home.

In terms of promoting better mental health, Wagner said it’s important that people “be aware to take care of themselves, and if they find that they are struggling mentally to reach out for help, either from a counseling group or even just to talk to a family member or friend is often enough just to sort of get it off your chest.”

As for child safety, an issue that’s always on the agenda, she urges farmers to remain vigilant, not taking their eyes off of children in the vicinity of farm equipment and animals.

Wagner also had words of encouragement for farmers as they head into the busy season ahead.

“Be vigilant. Even though we can’t meet in person, we’re hoping to have a safe planting season because that is coming up again now. In April and May, the farmers will all be busy – they become very busy with the work at hand. So, this preseason now in March is probably a good time to prepare your machinery and to get physically and mentally prepared for that busy April, May, June stretch that many of them have to put in.”

With the rally off again, Wagner said she hopes it will come back stronger in 2022.

For more information on Canadian Agricultural Safety Week, see the website online.

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