“They are our quality of life,” says Rob Horricks, CEO of Blush Lane and Owner of an organic orchard in Keremeos, BC, when asked about importance of temporary foreign workers (TFW) and travelers (often Quebecois) to local fruit production. What Horricks means is that without the many seasonal field workers that travel to the province every summer to work, Canadians would not be able to enjoy the luxury of an abundant amount locally grown produce. Due to many factors related to COVID-19 however, this undervalued dependency by our food system on these labourers may soon become realized by the everyday consumer with a stark awakening. Fruit farmers, particularly cherry and apples farmers, are struggling more than ever to find workers.
In response to this reality, we want to share some reasons why farmers are struggling this season and offer some ways that you can help out.
Why there is a lack of field workers
The struggle to find agricultural workers started back in March when the Government of Canada halted most non-residents from entering the country. With the agricultural industry employing about 60,000 TFWs however, the Government has since given an exemption to this sector.
Today, although TFWs are allowed to enter the country or province, many farmers are still seeing unprecedented shortages in labour. One reason is that many workers have decided to stay home due to fears related to being separated from loved ones during a pandemic. Further, for many labourers that do make the journey, they are required to isolate for two weeks before starting work which delays production even further.
To top off these challenges, farmers have had little luck recruiting local residents to fill these positions for various reasons. One challenge is that the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) program appears to be incentivizing individuals to stay unemployed rather than seek hardworking jobs. In addition, Horrick’s mentioned that much of cherry and apple farming is inherently unpredictable and thus farmers cannot guarantee days of work or start dates. This characteristic of the work makes seeking employment with these farms unattractive to many.
How you can help
If you enjoy the outdoors, like to work hard, and are unemployed, now could be your time to try something new and have a real impact on your local food system! It is a perfect way to get some “garden therapy” as Horricks calls it, and a great way to help out a neighbour. Check out this website for job postings.
As a consumer, you can help by buying local produce when you see it! Prices may be higher than you typically expect, but try to respect the fact that these prices reflect the many challenges that farmers are facing. Many produce operations will have to increase the prices in order to make it through the season.
If you love local as much as we do at SPUD.ca, share with us how else we can support our food system!