Appeal from a farmer: send a letter of thanks to the people who supply your food

It was the sudden death of an Oxford County farmer, which is being looked into by Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit, that spurred Tim May into action.

Tim May says he needed to do something after the death of an Oxford County farmer

Tim May is urging people to send anonymous notes of appreciation to farmers as a way of combating suicide and mental health issues in the farming community. (Submitted)

Tim May says he's received five messages in the last week about farmers dying by suicide.

But it was the sudden death of an Oxford County farmer, which is being probed by Ontario's Special Investigations Unit, that hit closest to home.

"We lost a great friend and strong voice in our rural community … we all struggled with it," said May, who runs a dairy farm near Guelph.

It was her death that spurred May into action.

May, who goes by the name Farmer Tim online, published a post calling on the public to write anonymous notes of appreciation to local farmers. It's his way of trying to combat suicide and mental health issues in the farming community.

A University of Guelph study from 2016 showed depression, stress and emotional burnout are higher among farmers than other occupational groups.

May believes that's because the industry faces a unique set of stressors — long days, being at the mercy of the weather, and often times not being able to take sick days or holidays.

He said the culture of farming also contributes to persisting mental health issues.

"Farmers are actually pretty stoic. They don't show their emotions a lot," said May.

"There's this cowboy up attitude among farmers — if you can't handle it you shouldn't be a farmer."

'Nice to know you're appreciated'

May remembers struggling from a back injury and sore knees a few years ago. Gruelling hours, coupled with the pain, were getting to him.

One morning, he opened his mailbox to find an anonymous letter.

Tim May cherishes an anonymous note that was sent to him when he was struggling with poor health and working long, gruelling hours. (Submitted)

The note said he and his neighbour had the happiest looking cows they'd ever seen.

He stuck the note on the wall. To this day, he doesn't know who sent it.

But he says reading that letter again on tough days, makes all the difference in the world.

"That really touched me that somebody would take the time to write that and slip it in my mailbox. It's just nice to know you're appreciated," said May.

The letter jumped immediately to mind when May tried to figure out how to respond to the death of his fellow farmer.

Since making the public plea to send farmers letters of thanks, he's been encouraged by the reaction.

Another note May received features a drawing of one of his Belted Galloway cows. The message says: "Thank you for devoting your life to farming. You are appreciated!" (Submitted)

May said he's receiving feedback from people not only across Canada but from all over the world wanting to step up to give farmers some support.

May also received another letter.

This time, it included a sketch of one of May's cows and in capital letters says "YOU ARE APPRECIATED!" 

May says he's going to frame that one.


Julianne Hazlewood is a multimedia journalist who's worked at CBC newsrooms across the country as a host, video journalist, reporter and producer. Have a story idea?