Friday, September 2, 2016
Local Food and Foreign Workers
One of the great ironies of growing local food is that much of the farm help required to grow it comes from thousands of miles away.
Our 1857 farmhouse has seen two families of 10 children raised in it over the years. There was little need for outside hired help back in the day; one raised their own work force for the fields along with their own food for the table.
Sadly, my wife and I are shirkers in this regard. We have but one son. Many of you have met Geoff during past summers, but he will be back at the University of Guelph this fall, working towards his Master's degree in Agriculture.
Those halcyon days of large farm families living every quarter mile along the concession roads and an abundant supply of local farm workers are but a distant memory now. The growth of the Toronto area along with an abundance of higher paying jobs has left local farmers scrambling for help.
It is not a new problem. The song "How Ya Gonna Keep 'em Down on the Farm (After They've Seen Paree?) was written in 1919. Its lyrics highlight the concerns that returning World War I soldiers would not want to return to the farm after experiencing the city life and culture of places like Paris.
The Temporary Foreign Worker Program was created 50 years ago to help address this shortfall in farm labor. Jamaica was the first country to enter into an agreement with the Government of Canada, administered by the wonderfully capable Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (F.A.R.M.S.)
Jamaica has been joined by four other Caribbean countries and Mexico as source countries for the program. Last year, 17,648 workers came to Canada to help do farm jobs that Canadians could not or would not do.
We have two Jamaican workers, Clifford and Keroy, that have been with us for a number of years.
Keroy lives on his own small farm in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, where he grows coffee and assorted fruit and vegetables. He has four children ranging in age from 8 to 24, along with a hard working wife to work the farm during the five months that he is with us.
Keroy is the quintessence of "Jamaica, No Problem." He is able to see the funny side of any situation no matter how bleak it may be. He has an absolutely contagious laugh and a sunny disposition that elevates all our spirits.
Clifford is more Type A serious and seriously driven to work hard. He lives in Kingston, not far from Tivoli Gardens, a notoriously crime ridden housing project, along with his girlfriend and two small children. Fond of parables and riddles, he has more street smarts than I would have in ten lifetimes.
Clifford has an uncanny ability to anticipate what is required on the farm next, whether it be planting, harvesting or stocking the market. I am certain that he and Keroy could run the farm without me for most of the season.
Clifford and Keroy's time away from home allows them to support their families in a way that would be difficult on Jamaican wages. Both men have been able to buy property, educate their children and operate businesses in Jamaica.
They are an important part of our family from the end of May to the end of October every year, We would be unable to farm without their valuable hard work. Please take a moment, if you don't already know them, to say hello. They are an absolutely vital part of your local food meals.