Having struggled with his own mental health, James Rhys has launched his own range of coffee with part of the profits going to mental health charity, Make Tiny Changes.
Having come from a non-farming background, James Rhys, 29, from South West Wales, found a passion for the industry after working on a farm in Gloucestershire on weekends.
He eventually gained a full-time job on the same farm, working with an award-winning herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle, rearing dairy cross heifers and steers.
Fast-forward to 2014 and James moved to Scotland to work with sheep, running his own flock alongside some contract shepherding work. But after struggling with his mental health, the sheep were sold a year ago and he now helps on a small farm near Dumfries which runs a mix of commercial sheep and pedigree Galloway cattle.
And although there is more discussion around mental health in the farming industry, he still believes there is a long way to go and hopes the perception of it can still change.
He says: “I think it is vitally important to talk about mental health. There is still a stigma around it, but it is just like any other illness.
“You would not have a second thought about going to the doctor if you were feeling physically ill, and you would not be ashamed to talk openly about being sick, so why should it be any different when it comes to our mental health?
“There are so many pressures on farmers today, whether they are financial stresses, the impact of livestock attacks or diseases like TB, or the uncertainty surrounding the industry with Brexit. It can be too much to shoulder alone. I think the attitude is definitely changing, with farmers like Peter Hynes and Doug Avery sharing what they have been through and showing people it is OK to struggle and to ask for help. I know when I first opened up about my experiences on social media, the support and messages I received from people in the industry was overwhelming. I had struggled in silence for so long, but there were so many others who knew how I was feeling or just wanted to let me know it was OK to be open and honest.”
Following a personal passion along with highlighting mental health, James has launched his new venture today on World Mental Health Day (October 10), Farm Boy Brews, a coffee brand where part of the profits will go towards Make Tiny Changes, a mental health charity in Scotland.
But farming is to blame for his interest in coffee and its origins.
“Working in farming made me a lot more interested in where my food was coming from, and coffee was just an extension of that,” he says.
“I wanted to know more about how it was farmed and that the farmers were getting a fair price.
“After my recent struggles, I knew I wanted to put mental health at the very heart of whatever I was doing going forward. Farm Boy Brews was born out of a combination of my love of great coffee, wanting to give something back and raise awareness and a bit of money for mental health charities.”
His first batch, Depresso Espresso, is a blend made up of coffee from Brazil, Ethiopia and India, and is £7 per bag, developed in partnership with Coffee Direct Scotland.
“The coffee is imported from specific farms, estates or co-operatives in the country of origin,” says James.
“For example, the Bom Jesus Brazil which forms the foundation of the blend is imported to Cumbria by a Brazilian who works closely with the farmers over there. Sustainability and traceability are very important.”
But something as simple as sitting over a cup of coffee could get people talking about their problems.
He says: “A coffee around the kitchen table is a big part of everyday life on the farm. I know it certainly is on the farm that I work on.”
Knowing how hard it can be to start the conversation, James urges others to speak up if they are feeling like they are struggling.
“The one thing I would say to someone who is struggling is, you are not alone,” says James.
“It is not easy to accept you are struggling or to ask for help - it took me well over 10 years to realise I could not keep struggling on alone but going to the doctor was the best thing I ever did.
“It does not matter who you turn to. A friend, a family member, your GP or a charity like Mind, CALM, The Samaritans or a farming specific one like the RABI or RSABI. There will be someone there to listen, to help and to support.”
For now, Farm Boy Brews will be available online or in certain shops in Dumfries and Galloway.
He says: “Hopefully it can get people talking and raise a bit of money for charity. Who knows where it will lead to? I would love to be able to do some pop-up events in the future, to serve great coffee and get people talking and maybe even have a roastery of my own one day.”
The charity was set up after the Hutchinson family, Scotland, lost their son, Scott, in 2018 after suffering with his mental health since childhood. Their aim is to raise awareness about mental health amongst young people and children, advance understanding of mental health and provide support and a voice to families and children affected.