Congratulations to Deborah Vanberkel, winner of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture’s (CFA) national award, The Brigid Rivoire Award for Champions of Agricultural Mental Health.
Deborah received the award on February 25, 2020 during CFA’s Annual General Meeting, held virtually for a national audience.
The award recognizes a specific initiative that has made outstanding contributions in raising awareness, addressing stigma, and supporting mental health for farmers in their local community. Deb was selected for her work on the Farmer Wellness Program, a counselling service dedicated to the farming community.
Deborah Vanberkel initiated the Farmer Wellness Program and worked with the Lennox & Addington Federation of Agriculture (LAFA) as well as the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) to launch the program as a pilot in 2019, which has now graduated to a permanent program administered by LAFA and has expanded into four other counties and counting.
The core tenants of the program include four counselling sessions at no charge to the farmer, no lengthy wait times, flexible appointment options, and access to a counsellor with a background in agriculture. The program aims to reduce the stigma associated with reaching out for help and eliminate common barriers such as financial cost and business hours that result in the farming community rarely getting the help they need.
Deb’s passion for agriculture starts at home in Odessa, where she dairy farms with her husband and two children. Deb and Steve are the sole operators of a 40 milking cow farm. They are passionate about raising their kids on the farm and their two daughters are very involved with daily chores.
In between farm chores, she is a registered psychotherapist, and after many years counselling in a public agency, she started her own practice in rural Ontario, Cultivate Counselling Services. Thanks to technology, Deb is able to service rural clients across Ontario from her office in Napanee.
When Deb is not farming or counseling, she is tirelessly advocating to get more mental health support for the rural and agricultural community. Her role in the creation of the Farmer Wellness Program, andher involvement withthe University of Guelph’s In the Know literacy program has given her broad insight on the issues and supports available to the agricultural community. She gives voice to a neglected sector of the population and promotes how we can work together to increase a network of support for those in agriculture.