New program takes aim at high early mortality rate of farmers

Stress, poor eating habits and other factors mean farmers have higher 
rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory issues

Jordan Jensen, project manager of Sustainable Farm Families, a new program designed to help farmers take control of their health.
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You can’t enjoy your farm if you’re dead — but many farmers take better care of their land, equipment, or animals than themselves.

“It’s true for my family and a lot of farmers I know,” said Jordan Jensen, who grew up near Raymond and is now project manager of Sustainable Farm Families Canada.

“Farmers tend to know more about their cattle or their machinery, or their land… way more than they know about themselves and their health. They’re more concerned about taking care of their $500,000 tractor than they are about themselves.

“What good is having a $500,000 tractor or 1,000 acres of land or cattle, if you’re not there to enjoy it or to make use of it?”

The Sustainable Farm Families program was developed a decade ago in Australia and will be rolled out in this province at workshops in Lethbridge, Taber, and Grande Prairie in November. Jensen said he hopes it generates the same feedback it did Down Under.

“Every single one of those participants said that they would recommend it to a family, a neighbour or somebody who they knew,” said Jensen.

Rural Canadians have a higher incidence of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory issues than urbanites, but previous health and safety programs in Alberta have not made a significant impact in these areas, said Jensen.

“Farmers have a higher risk of early mortality, and it is preventable. It’s just a matter of changing how they look at themselves and how important their role is on the farm.”

The Sustainable Farm Families workshops, which are free, run over two consecutive days and focus on health issues that are common among farmers, including stress, nutrition, disease prevention, mental health, and physical activity. Each workshop is only open to 20 participants, with an emphasis on discussion and group learning activities, rather than lectures. While most farm programs target children, Sustainable Farm Families is geared towards farm couples, and children or apprentices working on the farm.

“The decision makers on the farm are the ones getting the education so they can take it, share it, and lead by example,” said Jensen. “That is one of the aspects of the program that makes it so successful.”

Participants decide what they want to implement and there’s no finger pointing. The workshop leaders, who provide information and handbooks, include farmer peers and registered nurses.

“It’s friends and peers teaching each other,” said Jensen. “A lot of it is farmers sharing stories, opening up to each other, and that’s where the magic really happens.”

As part of the program, participants take a tour of a grocery store to learn how to read labels, and spot misleading advertising. Participants also make their own action plans and goals for wellness.

At the beginning of the program, they get a free health assessment from a registered nurse. Blood pressures, blood glucose, cholesterol levels, eyesight, hearing, family history and many other key indicators of health will be measured and discussed in private.

If the first year of the program is a success, this year’s participants will be invited to participate in second- and third-year workshops. In Australia, participants monitored their health over the three-year program.

“This was one of the highlights that people mentioned,” said Jensen.

For more information on the program or to sign up, visit the Farm Safety Centre online or contact Jensen at 403-752-4585 or [email protected]

About the author


Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."



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