As we persevere through yet another lockdown, the public health crisis of COVID-19 has turned into a marathon with an invisible finish line that continues to test our strength, patience and resilience. In the early days of the pandemic, many of us viewed the challenges as a short-term sprint. Adrenaline carried us through the initial hurdles, but now as we approach the one-year mark, mental fatigue, exhaustion and stress has set in.
Families are being forced to balance competing roles of employee, parent, teacher, friend and farm business owner on top of the exhaustion of pandemic restrictions, decreased social activities and a fundamental change in our community environment. If you’re feeling as though you’ve hit a roadblock this week, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) wants you to know we care and you’re not alone.
For many of our 38,000 farm family members, our homes have always doubled as a place of business. But now, nuclear families find themselves with children at home juggling multiple virtual classrooms while meeting the demands of running a farm business. Many of us are attempting to work as if we don’t have children, and trying to raise children like we don’t have work.
These pressures have resulted in many people feeling inadequate and has created undue stress and guilt. If you are doing your job as an employee or business owner, you feel as though you are not doing your job as a parent. The pandemic has created an environment where it is nearly impossible to balance the needs and expectations of work and home life. Please give yourself permission to be human and accept that you are not a superhero.
Adding to pandemic frustrations is rural Ontario’s continued patchwork of reliable broadband access. Internet capability seems to be the primary factor across the sector in determining the smoothness or difficulty of the transition to working from home and virtual learning. Social media is flooded with parents whose broadband is not strong enough to sustain both business and virtual learning meetings. The effects of unreliable broadband have been overwhelming, with children feeling anxious that they can’t take part in class activities and parents stressed that their children are falling behind on coursework.
It’s important that broadband infrastructure projects in rural, northern and remote communities are prioritized to serve residents that experience regular interruptions, slow download speeds and overall poor-quality service. We appreciate the nearly $1 billion investment from the Ontario government to expand access to reliable broadband, but it’s imperative the construction of these projects get underway. OFA will continue working with the government to ensure these projects are prioritized. Fast, reliable broadband is an essential service and the need for everyone to have equal access has never been more evident.
Mental health also continues to be a pressing issue for our rural communities. As we progress into the dark, dreary days of February, I encourage you to reach out to those around you. Many people choose to suffer in silence, but it is important to stay connected during these tough times. Take the time to send that check-in message or pick up the phone to ensure that neighbours and friends who feel isolated are reminded they are not alone. Talk about how you are feeling to set the tone and open the door for others to share honestly as well.
Our greatest currency as farmers is access to the outdoors. We have the green space to get outside, go for walks, tour our fields and visit with animals. As fellow caretakers of the land, I challenge you to take advantage of your connection with nature. Personally, I find that my nighttime stargazing grounds me and provides the opportunity to see the big picture. We are all under the same sky, working collectively together to put an end to COVID-19.
With no set finish line for this pandemic, it is not easy to see the end of this exhausting marathon we are in, but we encourage you to remember we will get through it together, one step at a time.
If you or someone you know is in distress and needs help, there are people and resources available that can help. For resources and updates on OFA’s mental health advocacy, please visit ofa.on.ca/mental-health.
Jennifer Doelman is the Renfrew County director for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.