Migrant workers toiling in the fields for the Holland Marsh Growers’ Association (HMGA) so far have been spared from COVID-19.
HMGA represents 126 farmers who grow a variety of vegetables including 66 percent of the province’s onions and 58 percent of the province’s carrots.
Executive Director Jody Mott said members have left nothing to chance to protect their workers, themselves and the community.
“Most workers have their own bedrooms. Many growers went out and purchased more trailers to put them in.”
Mott can’t put a dollar figure on what growers have spent to ensure safety but notes new trailers cost as much as $80,000. If workers share a bedroom, the beds must be six feet apart. No worker was able to move in until there was a rigorous inspection by the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Labour.
Besides the inspection process, Mott is on the phone every Wednesday to the health units in Simcoe Muskoka and York Region to receive updates from local officials and to forward questions that growers have.
“Everybody is checking on the workers daily. There are wellness checks to make sure no one is showing signs of COVID-19,” said Mott.
Most of the workers contracted by HMGA come from the Caribbean and Mexico. Due to the virus, the number of workers needed in the fields is at 75 percent capacity.
Mott said the workers are encouraged to stay on the farms, though they have the right to go into the community. Grocery stores assist by preparing orders that are picked up and there is direct debiting to bank accounts.
What’s happening in the Holland Marsh is a far cry from the outbreak of COVID-19 among agri-food employees in Essex County. As of June 10, the number of infections topped 200, many of them migrant workers.
Mott can’t comment on what is happening in southwestern Ontario. She does want people to know there is a real bond between the growers and workers in the Holland Marsh.
“These workers have been coming here for years. They are just like another family member. If the growers don’t have these workers, then they don’t have a crop and we don’t eat.”
Mott said the workers come to Canada by choice and they want their money to help their families.
As of a month ago, HMGA needed to fill about 300 Canadian spaces to work the fields. Mott said some people were hired. Most could not handle the heat and long days.
“When people look at migrant workers, you have to remember a hot day here working is a regular day working for them. They don’t find it warm. At the end of the season, they go back to their families. This is a lifestyle for them.”
Most of the workers will return home after the harvest in October or November depending on their contract.
Mott said they have a great working relationship with the various government ministries and local health units in a normal year and everybody has stepped up their game in the name of public safety.
“There isn’t anything these farmers wouldn’t do to make sure these migrant workers are not safe. There are spot checks. Every rule is out there for the farmers to follow. Anyone who doesn’t quarantine their people and do it properly faces a large fine. No grower we know is going to risk their farm for the fine.”
Banner: Holland Marsh Growers’ Association-picture provided