Early in June, we reached out to volunteers to participate in an initiative to welcome and support migrant farm workers in our area. 

Every year, migrant farm workers come from all over the world to support the physically-demanding work of agriculture in Canada through the federal Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program. The workers are essential in ensuring the success and stability of our national food infrastructure; pre-pandemic, over 20,000 migrant workers worked on farms and in greenhouses in Ontario alone. The majority of the workers come from Mexico and Jamaica with other source countries including the Philippines, Thailand, Nicaragua, and Vietnam.

The speed at which COVID-19 was transmitted among farm workers in some communities has highlighted the unequal conditions faced by many migrant workers in Canada. For many years, advocates and activists have been vocal in their calls for fair treatment of migrant workers. Improved working conditions, stronger provision and protection of employment rights, and a fairer immigration system could have reduced the tragic impact of COVID-19 among migrant workers in Canada. The following organisations offer information for those wanting to learn more or support these efforts:

Locally, we worked with Peterborough and the Kawarthas Economic Development to reach out to area farmers who employ migrant workers and put together a small care package for each worker. With international travel restrictions, a smaller number of workers have arrived in Canada this year but they have the added emotional burden of leaving their loved ones in these difficult times and arriving to a 14-day self quarantine.

Thanks to our volunteers, over 30 letters and cards, all with the theme of thanking these local workers for their invaluable contribution to growing and harvesting food, were collected.  

These personal messages, together with a small care package of food staples and information about NCC services were delivered to 15 workers at McLean’s Berry Farm and 3 workers at Lunar Rhythm Gardens.  Farmers Erin McLean and Jess Foote were deeply appreciative of the support for their workers who they regard as part of their extended family after working with them for many years. 

While our initiative was just a small step, it was an important step.  With these packages, we hope that the workers will know that as a community we welcome and appreciate them, that we are interested in their wellbeing, and that they have supports if they need assistance.  

This initiative is supported by the Linda and Alan Slavin fund within the Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough.

Our thanks to Gabi Dragomir at Peterborough & the Kawarthas Economic Development Pat Learmonth at Farms at Work and Liliana Perez for their support in this initiative.