The Hands That Feed Us
If you eat food grown in Ontario, Canada, the US, especially fruits and vegetables, there is a very good chance that migrant farmworkers have harvested that food or otherwise been involved in its production – Julie Fleming, Co-Owner and Operator, Circle Organic
Our national food infrastructure depends on the contributions of migrant farmworkers who work on farms, in greenhouses and processing plants throughout Canada. Before the pandemic, over 20,000 people accounted for the seasonal agricultural workforce in Ontario alone, arriving from countries including Mexico, Jamaica, the Philippines, Thailand, Nicaragua, and Vietnam through the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP). In addition to agriculture, temporary migrant workers also account for a large proportion of the labour force in health care, in-home care, food processing, cleaning services, delivery services and construction.
This year, the New Canadians Centre continued the care package program to reach out to migrant farmworkers in Peterborough County. Through the Peterborough Immigration Partnership, we were also able to connect with partners working with farmers and workers in the area to broaden the network of support and discuss the gaps and opportunities in this area of work. This included the Durham Region Migrant Worker Solidarity Program, representatives from the City of Kawartha Lakes and Peterborough Economic Development, OMAFRA, Peterborough Public Health and Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit, local farmers and Farms at Work.
We learned about the cherished connections between Peterborough farmers and their workers. Farmers regard many workers as their extended family whom they keep in touch with even during the off-season, such as on McLean Berry Farm.
We worked with local filmmaker Shahed Khaito to tell the story of Julie Fleming and Roberto Garcia at Circle Organic through the short documentary “The Hands That Feed Us.”
I hope that one day there will be opportunities so that we can live better without being so far away from our families – Roberto Garcia (translated from Spanish)
Advocates for migrant workers have raised issues related to workers’ rights and sometimes abusive treatment because of the power imbalances created by the structural inequity of this program. They have been vocal in their calls for a fairer immigration system, improved working conditions and treatment of migrant workers, and stronger provision and protection of employment rights.
In Northumberland, Horizons of Friendship is leading important work to support workers through their Migrant Worker Outreach Program. They work in collaboration with the Port Hope Community Health Centre and the Northumberland Community Legal Centre to connect with over 300 migrant farm workers in the region.
The Durham Region Migrant Worker Network covers Whitby, Beaverton, Bowmanville and Clarington. Similarly, they provide information and support about healthcare, human rights, and social services to workers and organise opportunities for social interaction. They also create local awareness of migrant workers for all community members.
Please subscribe to updates from these migrant rights advocates to learn more:
- Justice 4 Migrant Workers
- Migrant Rights Network
- Migrant Workers Alliance for Change
- Migrant Worker Health Project
Our thanks to Julie Fleming and Roberto Garcia for sharing their story and to Shahed Khaito for her insightful film
To support local food producers, follow the Peterborough Alliance for Food and Farming on social media (https://localfoodptbo.ca/) and visit Peterborough Farm Fresh (peterboroughfarmfresh.ca).