The Do More Ag Foundation isn’t even half a year old, but the not-for-profit organization created to focus on farmers’ mental health, is attracting big-name partners, including most recently Bayer.
“It has been absolutely incredible the support that we have been getting for sure,” Kim Keller, one of the foundation’s four founders and acting executive director, said in an interview May 17.
May 9 Bayer announced a $20,000 donation to the foundation “to support its mission of providing support and resources to farmers seeking mental health assistance.”
Other major companies, including Syngenta, Seed Master and Co-op, are listed as partners on the foundation’s website, as is the Canadian Mental Health Association.
“The support we have got is absolutely incredible,” said Keller, who farms with her family near Gronlid in northeast Saskatchewan. “It will allow us to do some pretty amazing things I feel and really reaching as many producers in this first year (of operating) that we possibly can.”
The Do More Ag Foundation was registered as a not-for-profit organization in January. It’s not a registered charity, so it can’t issue tax receipts to donors. However, the foundation will apply to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to become a registered charity, Keller said.
“We have not submitted the application yet, but we are working on the application with lawyers to get that submitted,” she said.
“We’ve been told not to expect charity status any sooner than the end of the year.”
Registered charities are exempt from paying income taxes and can issue official donation receipts for income tax purposes, a CRA official wrote in an email May 18.
“Registered charities must use all their resources for charitable activities…” the official wrote.
There are three types of registered charities — charitable organizations, public foundations and private foundations. Designation depends on structure, source of funding and mode of operation.
More than 50 per cent of board members serving on a public foundation must be at arm’s length.
To that end the Do More Ag Foundation is seeking outside directors to help oversee its operations, Keller said.
The foundation will be accountable to the public by publishing its audited financial statements, she said.
“We want to make sure that all of the funds are deployed properly and they’re being put to the very best use they possibly can with the end goal of making sure everyone in the agriculture community is taking care of their mental well-being,” Keller said.
The Do More Ag Foundation came about after Keller received a private message through Twitter last summer from someone she didn’t know who has lost a farm-client to suicide. This person had seen what Keller, and her Farm At Hand app business partner Himanshu Singh, had done to raise awareness about farmers’ mental health with their #HereforFarmers T-shirt campaign. The money was donated to the Saskatchewan farm stress line.
Keller and Singh later sold Farm At Hand.
“After I received that message I put the call out on Twitter and the reaction and the conversation that started, made myself, Himanshu Singh, Lesley Kelly and Kurt Muyres (the other participants in the Do More Ag Foundation) come together and we decided that someone needed to do something and someone needed to take the lead on that and we were those people who could get the ball rolling and get started on it,” Keller said.
Singh is a consultant, Kelly farms and writes the blog ‘High Heels & Canola Fields’ and Kirk Muyres is a mortgage broker.
The Do More Ag Foundation has three pillars, Keller said. The first is creating awareness about mental health through education and trying to break the stigma around it.
Second is creating a community to connect people and help them find mental health resources.
Third is supporting research into the mental health of farmers.
The foundation hasn’t set a funding target yet.
“We’re so brand new we’re still just making sure that we’re getting our feet underneath of us and making sure that we’re deploying the funds that we do have so far in the right manner,” Keller said. “I imagine that next year we will have a goal of how much funds we want to raise.”
Despite recent efforts to break the stigma around mental health across society, it clearly exists. And it might even be a bigger challenge for farmers who have a reputation for stoicism and pride. Research from the University of Guelph appears to back that up. Forty per cent of the farmers it interviewed said they would be uneasy about seeking help with mental health for fear of what people might think.
“So that’s a barrier,” Keller said.
“That’s part of the work that we are doing. Breaking that stigma is the first and most important step that we can take right now.
“I think we’re going to be able to do a lot of good and have a great and positive impact.”