On World Mental Health Day, we spend some time with Farm Boy Brews, which is raising money for Scottish mental health charity Tiny Changes with its new espresso blend.
BY FIONN POOLER
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of James Rhys
In rural Southwest Scotland, a Welsh farmer-turned-entrepreneur is raising awareness of mental health issues through specialty coffee. James Rhys, who moved from Wales to Dumfries and Galloway in 2014 to pursue work as a shepherd, soon found himself struggling with the mental health problems that had troubled him since his teenage years.
“Moving up here, with the isolation and the stress associated with the job, everything just weighed pretty heavily,” James says. “I tried to deal with it all on my own, which is what I’d always done, and it all just got too much.”
“It’s a nice place,” he says of Dumfries and Galloway, “but there’s nothing here. Mental health-wise it’s a huge issue—over the past three years I’ve lost count of how many people, in the local area, have killed themselves. People are struggling, and some people don’t feel like they can ask for help, others ask for help but don’t get it or aren’t taken seriously, and it doesn’t need to be that way.”
James finally sought the help he needed, and since then he has put his free time into coffee, attracted by the sense of community he felt was lacking in his farming career. He spent the last couple of years taking classes and exploring Scotland’s growing specialty-coffee scene, which was once confined to Edinburgh and Glasgow but now stretches across the country, from Aberdeenshire to Skye.
However, Dumfries and Galloway, in the far southwest of the country, is still trailing behind. Seeing this gap in the market, James formed Farm Boy Brews and, in partnership with Jim Watson of the Scottish Barista Academy and Coffee Direct, created a limited-run coffee titled Depresso Espresso. As a dark-roast blend, it is designed to capture as wide an audience as possible. “I’m conscious that I need the support of the local area,” James says, “and the more I can sell, the more money I can raise.”
Funds from the sales will benefit mental health charities and projects around the country. Depresso Espresso will go on sale today—appropriately on World Mental Health Day—online, in select stores, and through the subscription service One Click Coffee. For this first coffee (James is pursuing partnerships with other Scottish roasters for future collaborations), he has chosen to support Tiny Changes, the charity set up in memory of Scott Hutchison of the band Frightened Rabbit, who took his own life in 2018.
The suicide rate in Scotland increased by 15% last year, and the country now has the highest rate in the UK. James’ long-term goal is to be able to open a roastery in Dumfries and Galloway and provide support for others like him who have been impacted by mental health issues. “I feel like I have a second chance,” he says, “and I want to try and raise awareness for the help that is out there so that others can get the same level of support that I did. I would also love to be able to offer training or employment opportunities to those who have had to give up or take time off work due to mental health issues and enable them to get back on their feet.”
In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or by email at email@example.com. In the U.S., the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Fionn Pooler is a freelance writer and former coffee professional originally from Scotland and now based in Southeast Michigan. He writes about coffee, culture, and sustainability for a variety of publications and his own website, The Pourover.