"Now more than ever, we know how important it is for Canadian farmers to be able to continue to grow their crops and raise their livestock. A safe, consistent food supply is an essential service, especially during a global crisis like this when other countries around the world are facing the same problems we are."
Speaking is Jan VanderHout with Beverly Greenhouses, a third-generation greenhouse cucumber farm where they grow 30 acres of English cucumbers. To the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers' Association (OFVGA), he explains the importance of the food production and of the availability of international workers. "Consumers across southern Ontario, in Atlantic Canada and parts of the United States eat our cucumbers, which we sell directly to retailers as well as to the Ontario Food Terminal. We also normally supply farmers’ markets but since those are currently closed due to the pandemic, we are now donating all of those vegetables directly to food banks because we know how they’re really struggling right now."
The company has 10 full-time local employees, as well as six to eight students that normally just work Saturdays and holidays but are currently working more hours because school is closed. A group of 24 Mexican workers rounds out the staff – six have been there since last September under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and the rest come here every year through the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program.
"Our production season starts to get busy in January, so that’s when the first of our seasonal workers came in and we have more crews arrive as the season progresses and our workload increases. Most of our international workers are now here, but we’re still waiting for six to arrive to complete our team for this year. As they are every year, they’re keen to come to Canada to work because of the families and the communities they are supporting back home. We’ve long had food safety certifications, so many of the measures recommended to reduce COVID-19 transmission, like frequent handwashing, not touching your face and reporting when you’re sick, are already part of our standard operating procedures", Jan explains. "And we’ve now taken further measures to keep our staff safe and do our part to maintain physical distance wherever possible."
"We have four separate houses for workers on our farm so we have room to spread people out. We’ve helped all of our workers set up electronic banking so they don’t need to go to town and a local grocery provider has developed a list of items for Mexican preferences. Our workers can place their order, it’s delivered to the farm and we look after paying the supplier so there’s no need for direct contact or cash to exchange hands."
"It’s also not difficult to maintain physical distance between workers in our greenhouses. We have 30 acres under glass, giving everyone more than enough space to get their jobs done without having to work in close proximity. Timing matters when dealing with nature – we can’t just push pause on a crop or extend the season by a few weeks if vegetables aren’t ripe yet."
According to Jan, as farmers, they've been designated an essential service and we have an obligation to do what is needed so that we can all get through this crisis together. "Yes, everything is different this year and it’s not without its challenges, but we are committed to doing our part to keep food on our grocery store shelves. And that’s why support from all levels of government is very important, whether it’s financial or in the form of practical, workable solutions that will help our workers get to Canada and be able to start working quickly."