When people think about
where their food comes from, they often think about how it was
Did the farmers use
pesticides? Was it grown organically? Was it grown from genetically modified
But, there is more to
the story than just how your food was grown. The consumer should be thinking
about who was growing it and how they were treated.
Many large farms in Canada use migrant workers to fill their labor force. There are many different reasons for doing this. Perhaps the largest reason is that it is often hard to find local laborers willing to do seasonal farm work.
Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) allows Canadian farms to hire temporary
foreign workers when Canadians and permanent residents are not available. SAWP
works on a bilateral
agreement with Canada and the
participating country to ensure the workers have the necessary documents, have
experience in farming, are at least 18 years of age, and are able to satisfy
Canadian immigration laws and laws of the workers’ home country.
workers must be paid the same wages that a Canadian would receive for the same
work. While this is usually minimum wage in Canada, it is significantly more
money than what the worker would be able to earn in their home country, which
makes it a desirable opportunity for these workers. In addition, the employer
must also pay for and coordinate round trip
travel to and from the workers’
Migrant worker advocacy groups argue that although temporary foreign
workers are making minimum wage in Canada, they are paying into E.I., but are never eligible to receive E.I.
because they must return to their home country once their work term has
These advocacy groups
also support migrant workers who have been exploited, taken advantage of,
mistreated, and worked in poor conditions. Some workers reported having to handle pesticide covered vegetables without proper protective
equipment, resulting in increased headaches and skin irritations and burns.
They also have to endure the hardship of being away from their homes and
families for months at a time.
For migrant workers,
there’s also no pathway to immigration or citizenship, if desired. This may be
changing — the last federal budget included a 3-year pilot project for
full-time, non-seasonal agricultural workers as pathway to Canadian residency
(but not citizenship).
All of this represents
the ongoing effects of colonialism on a global scale that has prevented many in
the Global South from accessing land in their home countries, for example.
There can be no question that many of those who farm in Canada under SWAP are
Since March 2015,
Service Canada has been doing surprise
on farms to ensure that workers are being treated properly and living in
appropriate accommodations. Since then, they have issued 129 companies with
system is far from perfect. But there are examples of farms trying to do things
TapRoot Farms, a certified organic farm in Port Williams, Nova Scotia, has been hiring temporary foreign workers for nearly fourteen years. They are cultivating 280 acres of land (70% is currently certified organic, with 100% to be organic by 2020), and require a large labor force to manage this acreage.
For eight months of the year, TapRoot Farms owners Josh and Patricia, welcome fifteen employees from Jamaica onto their farm, through SAWP. At Taproot Farms, the temporary foreign workers duties range from planting to weeding to harvesting. The employees live in three homes owned by TapRoot that are close to the farm.
Josh and Patricia deeply care about their workers and treat them with the dignity and respect that they deserve. Josh has made five trips to Jamaica to learn about his workers lives back home. He says he feels it’s important for him to understand the experiences of his employees and wants to reciprocate the hard work they give to him. During these visits, Josh works on their farms and has helped with renovations on their homes. There is mutual respect and friendship between them.
The topic of migrant
workers serves as an important reminder: know your farmer,
know your food.
As a consumer, it is
your responsibility to learn the story behind your food. Don’t just ask about how your food was grown, but ask who
was the person doing the work? Were they treated fairly? Did they earn a living
wage? Were they working in healthy conditions? Farmers who are proud of their
employees and who treat their employees with dignity and respect will be open
about their relationships with their employees. Visit farms, and see for
yourself. Every dollar you spend on food is a vote for the way it was produced.
Make sure you feel good about the story behind the food you’re eating.
Blog written by: Rebecca Jones, Community Food Coordinator, Cumberland County, Ecology Action Centre
Adventures in Local Food
is your source for food news in Nova Scotia, from pickles to policy. It is a
project organized by the Ecology Action Centre. Learn more about our program