Orchardists and seasonal workers are getting a helping hand from the Creston Valley – Kootenay Lake Economic Action Partnership this summer.

After securing $112,000 from the Ministry of Agriculture, the Partnership says they will establish a camp for Canadian migrant farm workers as part of the COVID-19 Agriculture Response Strategy.

“We’re working with Fields Forward who is working directly with industry to support farms and orchardists to interpret and adopt the precautions necessary to ensure worker safety on-farm,” said Partnership Manager and CEO of Factor 5 Group Eric Burton.

Burton said they are also in the process of securing two campgrounds for an estimated window between July 15, 2020 to mid-August for seasonal pickers who may be between jobs.

“It’s this group that we felt the public really needed to roll up its sleeves and ensure they have safe accommodations so that they weren’t camping rough around the community and entering restaurants and establishments and so-forth, with the prospect of spreading COVID-19.”

He said the camps will give workers access to sanitation and help usher them towards orchardists in need of labour. They do not negate the responsibility of the orchardists to provide accommodation for workers, and the exact locations of these camps have yet to be determined.

The COVID-19 Agriculture Response Strategy is the brainchild of discussions which began in the Fall of 2019. They were in response to the growing demand of resources to support seasonal workers and agricultural producers in the Creston Valley. Burton said talks with stakeholders resumed on March 10, 2020 and then they were forced to change gears in lieu of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On April 6, the Partnership hosted an Agriculture Round Table to identify emerging challenges and priorities. 

“It became very clear that a healthy workforce is the top priority,” said Burton. “At that time some of the farms and orchardists were concerned that they weren’t going to get the workforce they needed to have a complete year. That really is a threat to the economic vitality of the region because for every migrant worker that comes and helps harvest the crop there  are local people employed in that industry.”

Burton added that a successful harvest not only supports the workers, but the local farmers and the community as a whole.

2020 has already proved to be a troublesome year with curveballs, hurdles and more snakes than ladders.  For that reason Burton said the Partnership will focus on achieving outcomes at a fast pace.

“A perfect solution that comes in August is no solution at all. So a part of our Agricultural Response Strategy is to really mobilize resources as quickly as possible. That’s required us to on one hand be assessing the need and at the same time developing a solution to address that need.”

An example of this, Burton added, was how the $112,000 was secured in the first place by shifting resources.

“Our Tourism Coordinator Jesse Willicome was really the one who initiated this particular grant,” Burton said. “He was looking from the lens of agritourism but he was able to identify the challenges and ways he could roll up his sleeves and help out. That’s the kind of leadership we need if we’re going to be successful in tackling these big challenges during these uncertain times.”

For more details on the Creston Valley – Kootenay Lake Economic Action Partnership follow this link to the RDCK website.