Migrant Worker Camp
Agriculture COVID-19 Response Strategy
The EAP consulted agriculture stakeholders in the spring on key challenges related to COVID-19. The need to ensure adequate workforce was identified as a leading risk to the vitality of the local industry. The issue was complicated by public concerns over health and safety risks posed by migrant workers. To support farmers and orchardists in securing the necessary workforce while addressing public concerns, the EAP developed a two prong approach. On one hand, Fields Forward was granted $14,000 to work directly with producers to interpret and adopt farm health and safety protocols including the promotion of on-farm accommodations. On the other hand, funding was secured from the Ministry of Agriculture to establish a migrant overflow camp to mitigate the risk of workers camping in the area and spreading COVID-19.
Strategic objectives of the strategy:
● Protect the community members of the Creston Valley & outlying region from the spread of COVID - 19
● Provide temporary accommodations for workers looking for work or in between work that is safe and sanitary and reduces the risk of the spread of COVID-19
● Ensure food security is maintained throughout the region by supporting the local agriculture sector’s need for sufficient labour during the cherry harvest season
● Increase the public’s awareness of the importance of the seasonal farmworkers contribution to the economy At the beginning of the project, we outlined key performance indicators that included the economic, health & safety, social, and infrastructure outcomes that we wanted our project to accomplish.
● Farmers and Orchardists completed their harvests without loss of crop.
● Creston had 0 COVID-19 cases transmitted by agricultural workers and this was confirmed by Interior Health.
● Creston’s Emergency Operation Centre received 0 calls from June to September. This was confirmed by the department.
● EAP worked closely with Fields Forward, EAP partners, producers, Interior Health, Ministry of Agriculture and Industry Associations to support on farm worker accommodations
We leased a private campground called Kozy Tent & Trailer. This campground had a capacity of 50 people and was equipped with showers, bathrooms, wi-fi, laundry, and a kitchen. We charged $5/night for the migrant workers to stay at our
camp. In addition, we hired two camp supervisors and one project manager to manage the camp. The camp passed both inspections and we followed all of the health and safety protocols relating to COVID-19 to ensure a successful season. All of
our materials were presented in French and English to our visitors. We monitored for rough campers for the duration of the season. Our team worked closely with Fields Forward to establish a strong link with the orchardists and all the key
stakeholders in the agriculture industry. Our team established multiple isolation sites at local motels for individuals in the event
that they tested positive for COVID-19. The isolation sites were not used since nobody tested positive, but we are fortunate that we had those locations as a critical risk mitigation strategy.
Local agriculture jobs were posted at our camp for the agricultural workers who had not secured employment when they arrived at Creston. Furthermore, we recruited the local workforce to support the farming industry this year and employed some workers for the season.
The project was awarded $112,500 from the Ministry of Agriculture to set up, manage and operate the Migrant work camp. We were able to come in under budget for the camp by $61,985. We saved costs by purchasing only necessities and working with the existing resources in the community and making the majority of purchases locally. We leased the site from a private campground that was equipped with many of the necessary amenities and hired a local project manager that was skilled and knowledgeable about the work camp needs. We were able to meet our deadlines for setting up and preparing the camp and provided extensive financial tracking reports.
Work Camp Business Planning Recommendations
Recommendation #1 - Ownership of the Camp
An obstacle that our team faced was dealing with the owner of the Kozy RV. Despite having signed a lease that was intended to give us control of the campground, in practice it was more complicated and restricted. There was an instance where we
wanted to make a policy change about how many people we could let in the camp and the owner did not support it. We ran into a problem with the janitor not being able to clean to our COVID-19 standards. This janitor had already been contracted with Kozy RV so there was nothing we could do to change the situation. We felt restricted in what we could do at the camp and had to check in with the owner on where we should put items and set up. If we decide to do a camp next year, it is strongly recommended that we get our own property/land that we would have complete control over.
Recommendation #2 - Hire the Local Workforce
There was a shortage of pickers this summer due to COVID-19. Typically we receive a number of pickers from other countries which wasn’t feasible this year. Historically, most locals don’t pick cherries due to the hard work and lack of training. This year we had promoted work to locals and received some calls from locals that were interested in working. For next year, we could start a campaign to market jobs to locals in June or even earlier. A training program could be offered on farms earlier in the year so that the locals are well-prepared and know what to expect for the season.
Recommendation #3 - Funding Option for Infrastructure
Though this doesn’t directly relate to the camp, I think it’s important to source funding opportunities for farmers to improve their infrastructure. For example, there was an emergency processing fund that was used during COVID-19 to assist agricultural workers to improve their operations: Infrastructure specific programs exist so that they can have funds to assist them in purchasing showers, washrooms, wi-fi, and other amenities for their workers. There could also be bylaws introduced that make it a requirement for the farms to have these amenities.
Recommendation #4 - Marketing Effort Outside of the Valley
Typically, the orchardists have the same pickers who come each year and the word spreads through word of mouth. However, we could do a coordinated marketing effort to places in BC and throughout the country and the world to showcase the agricultural sector here in Creston and attract workers. A targeted approach could help in attracting a stronger workforce next year instead of relying on people to show up.
The EAP met with the Ministry of Agriculture, Interior Health Authority, Regional District of the Central Kootenay, and orchardists to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the summer 2020 season. By doing so, we were able to identify areas where we can improve for the 2021 season. All of the stakeholders agreed that meeting next spring to discuss the 2021 season would be beneficial. We will act on the recommendations.
identified in the report as well as the recommendations from our partners.