Every spring, our summer family begins to arrive. It’s slow at first…a couple of guys now more like old friends. They arrive and there are welcomes, a mix of chatting through broken Spanish and English, grocery shopping…trips to the bank and most importantly – the purchase of long distance phone cards to call home.
We get down to work quickly as there is lots to do. Sometimes we work side by side cleaning up after a busy spring, sometimes they’re out in the fields doing weeding, picking rocks or moving irrigation and sometimes we’re sitting on the back of a bumpy tractor planting acre after acre of strawberries.
As the season moves on, another couple of guys join us in the daily tasks of farm life and then after that, usually a couple of more.
By the time the middle of June arrives…our entire summer family is here catching up with each other as they speak in rapid Spanish, filling the farm with infectious laughter and song.
I’ve been asked a few times why we hire migrant workers – and my answer is fairly simple:
We need reliable staff who show up every day and we need staff who will work when we ask them to and provide the quality and quantity we expect to be picked. Contrary to why a lot of people believe farms hire migrant workers – it’s not cheaper or easier….it’s actually is a lot more expensive and a lot more work for us to hire them than it would be to hire local staff. First – we’re required (as we are required to pay all of our staff) to pay them minimum wage. Some of our guys who have been returning year after year have earned increased wages like all of our staff does when they return year after year. Then – we have to pay for housing, a portion of their utilities, and a portion of their airfare to and from Mexico. We also spend countless hours taking them shopping for anything they need – from groceries to new clothes to take home for their kids…which is a tremendous amount of work, time and effort. But in the end…for us..it’s worth it.
We hired local pickers for years…years and years and years – in fact – we still do to supplement our ‘summer family’ with them …but we could never find enough people who wanted to do the work. Or people who would stick it out the entire season. Or people who would show up when it was over 30 degrees, or raining, or whatever the day may bring. Regardless of the circumstance – we still needed to be able to harvest the crops we were planting…and before we started hiring migrant workers, we were never able to do this. Entire fields would go to waste because we simply couldn’t get them picked.
We couldn’t get things harvested, keep things picked clean and the harvest suffered, the crops suffered, our customers suffered and we as farmers suffered.
We hired four guys from Mexico originally, and have now expanded now to twelve great guys. Guys with wives, kids and lots of family back home. We have guys with toddlers, twins, teenagers, grandkids and everything in between. Guys who when they’re back in Mexico work on farms, as taxi drivers and even one as a DJ. Guys who want to come to Canada to work temporarily, because they want to provide a better life for their families in whatever way they can. Guys who jump in to help whenever it is needed and are ready and willing to work with whatever has to be done.
When we first had four guys it meant that we were able to start producing more and harvesting more of what we had produced. It meant we were able to hire more people to sell the things that we had grown, and expand our business – eventually buying a second farm and hiring even more guys who live on that farm for the summer. Since we started using the migrant workers program we’ve been able to create a vast amount of new jobs in the community that would have never been available if it weren’t for them. We’ve been able to expand from one full time employee (who as a business owner was rarely, if ever, actually paid) to four full time year round employees. We have also been able to expand from 3-4 seasonal employees, to almost 25 seasonal employees, not including migrant workers – which is an enormous increase.
Our guys are one of the major backbones of the business. They are vital to our operations successes – we quite literally could not exist without them. From planting, to crop maintenance, to keeping the farm and fields in good working condition to harvesting and beyond – they do an immense amount of hard work. We have good friends, brothers and even a father and son who spend their summers side by side working with us – and we know how important they are and try to make sure they know how important they are whenever we can. Whether it’s taking them out for a nice Mexican meal they’ve been craving once we make it through our busiest season, grabbing some Chinese takeout after an unusually long and/or hot day so that no one has to cook, taking them to the lake to go swimming, having BBQ’s or Mexican feasts on the farm, having them at weddings, or just an evening soccer game in the backyard…going to Canada’s Wonderland or simply bringing them an ice cream, ice cold bottle of water or can of their drink of choice “coca” (coke!) to the field on a hot day – we want to make sure they know how big of a part of the business they are, and how much we value them.
Yes – they work long, hard days for us to put fresh local produce on your table. Yes, they may not be Canadian…. but to us…they’re “the guys” – and they’re our summer family. They’re salt of the earth people who we look forward to welcoming to work on the farm each summer. They’re the kind of people who smile encouragingly as you stumble over your Spanish and grab a heavy box to help you carry it, who laugh and joke and tell you about their “bambinos” and ‘bambinas’ as they show you a better way to harvest a certain crop. They are incredibly grateful for the job and we’re incredibly grateful for them, their work ethic and their determination to do the best job possible in everything that they do.
No – It’s not the easiest job, but they work hard and come back year after year…happy to be working along side us helping to make our farm the best it can be… always welcomed with open arms to be part of our “summer family”.