Country singer Blake Reid saw how this year’s harvest was impacting farmers in his family and his community.
Determined to do something to help out, he created a country and roots music tour called Three Chords and The Roots, with 100 per cent of all proceeds raised going to the Do More Ag Foundation, an organization which offers mental health resources for farmers.
“I read some of the statistics about farm stress, anxiety, depression and suicide. It’s quite alarming,” said Reid, who hails from Dogpound and comes from a multi-generational farm family.
“I worked with Do More Ag and 4-H Alberta on a grassroots level and we engaged UFA and Dekalb to support the tour. We’ve locked down six spots across Alberta.”
The shows — featuring Reid and fellow Alberta songwriters Joni Delaurier, Troy Kokol, Duane Steele, Dustin Farr, and local songwriters — were held in October and November in Longview, Cremona, Three Hills, Farmfair in Edmonton, and Calgary, with a final show in Standard on Nov. 20.
“The format lends itself to having an intimate and engaged conversation with the audience,” said Reid. “We have five songwriters who go to different towns, share some laughs, and tell the stories behind our songs. And we also talk about the need to reduce the stigma of mental health in agriculture.”
Those conversations were as important as the fundraising effort.
“There’s a need (to talk) and so the idea was to have community events where we can engage with the audience,” he said. “The bigger picture is to engage with radio, print media, and social media and just talk about reducing the stigma of mental health in agriculture.”
To promote the tour, Reid reached out to 4-H clubs he knew from writing the organization’s centennial song.
“There was overwhelming response — they wanted to be involved and support farmers. In most of the shows that we are doing, 4-H is a host for the event and a joint fundraiser.”
UFA and Dekalb are covering all the travel and production costs for the artists, so all the money raised went straight to Do More Ag.
The Longview 4-H Beef Club hosted the first event on Oct. 18, selling 140 tickets and raising about $3,600.
“We did it as a club, but I took it very personally and wanted it to do well,” said Stephen Hughes, a rancher from Longview and one of the club’s leaders. “The night went really well. We had a really nice crowd and a great feel to the room. Everybody was really pleased. Blake spoke to the topic, and there was some really nice music and a songwriters’ circle.”
The evening also provided a safe environment for talking about what is usually a taboo topic.
This is the first major fundraiser for the Do More Agriculture Foundation, which was launched nearly two years ago and is the first Canadian mental health organization focusing on resources and support for farmers and their families.
“We have people who donate from 4-H clubs, but this is the first of its kind,” said Adelle Stewart, the organization’s executive director.
“Blake contacted me and wanted to do this, and asked if we were interested in being recipients. This was his vision.”
Stewart said she was ecstatic by the fundraising tour.
“I was totally taken by surprise. It was so generous,” she said. “I have been talking to Blake. I haven’t met him, but he has his story of growing up on the farm and leaving the farm and doing music. He gets ag.
“We were so grateful for his generosity, along with that of all the musicians. My favourite thing about this is that it’s about mental health, but it’s through an event.”
And the timing was right for people in farm communities to gather, think about, and talk about the stress they’re under, Stewart added.
“It’s been an incredibly difficult harvest and it’s great to be able to get out there in your local community,” she said. “You don’t hear about the barn dances happening anymore, but this is the next best thing — to get out to your community and see some people you maybe haven’t seen because everyone has been in the combines or whatnot.
“It totally fits with our values of people building the community together and having these conversations about mental health.”
Do More Ag (www.domore.ag) has a number of resources for people who want to access mental health services in rural areas. The organization also does continuing education and mental health literacy for producers, as well as mental health training across Canada.
The Three Chords and The Roots tour raised the foundation’s profile in Alberta, and Reid said he is thinking of having another Alberta tour and one in Saskatchewan at some point.
“Do More Ag was born out of Saskatchewan, but it is a national body that supports the initiative for farmers for mental health across Canada,” he said. “Saskatchewan does have a farm stress line and that’s something we would like to work on for Alberta as well, with the government and organizations like Do More Ag and see if we can get a farm stress line.
“Right now, if farmers are having high stress or anxiety and they pick up the phone, they’re not going to talk to anyone who really has perspective on what their issues are.”
And encouraging conversations about mental health was the main goal of the tour, he added.
“There is strength in talking about it. It’s not a weakness.”