(Above: Our Farm Team as of May 2018 – at the height of our season there will be 32 seasonal workers in the fields!)
On this traditional Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo, I want to honor the unsung heroes of Canadian agriculture, our Mexican farm workers. The recent fire on Sumas Prairie might be the first time you were even made aware of the more than 6,000 seasonal foreign workers that live and work in BC. Not because they’re hiding or working here illegally, as they are all part of a strictly regulated agreement between Canada and Mexico called the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, or SAWP for short.
These hard working husbands and fathers leave their homes and families behind, desiring the same thing we all want, to be able to provide a good living for their families. It is not even a slight exaggeration to say that without the sacrifice of these men, the fruit and vegetable farms and orchards of BC would suffer a huge blow, and we probably wouldn’t be able to enjoy the fresh, local produce that we so easily take for granted.
This year our farm and orchard will employ 32 of these men, many who have come back year after year to help us with planting, harvesting, maintaining and processing our crops of corn, strawberries, cucumbers, beans, pumpkins and Okanagan orchard fruits. It’s back-breaking, hot and dusty work, and the simple truth is that we just don’t have the labor force in Canada to do this work.
I can already hear you wondering why we don’t hire students for these summer jobs. Simply because our farm season starts in March and ends when the last pumpkin is picked on October 30, and students are only able to work for a small portion of the eight months we need workers. And as any employer in BC can tell you, we are in the midst of a serious labor shortage and we all have more jobs than workers to fill them.
Watching them return to their home after a long day of physical labor, knowing they still have to prepare their own supper and do laundry, my heart is often saddened that they must spend so much time away from their young families. So the next time you’re enjoying farm-fresh, local produce, please take a moment to appreciate their efforts. If you’re in town on a Sunday, keep your eyes open for groups of them as they do their weekly shopping, and be brave enough to greet them with an “hola”, and a “gracias” for all that they do.