Last Thursday at 3:45 am, our 2 Mexican workers climbed on a bus bound for Pearson Airport in Toronto - the start of their journey back to Mexico. After 4 months working on our farm, they were excited to be heading home.
We were excited as well!
The day the men go home is a celebration day for us. It's not that we are so happy to see them leave, but we are celebrating what their departure means - the harvest is complete and the most tiring months of the farm year are over. Since the Mexicans' arrival in late May, everyone here at Thiessen Farms has been going long & hard. This is because there has been plenty of work to do, and also because they want to work long hours. After all, they come to Canada to make money to support their families back home in Mexico.
Our Mexican workers come to the farm under the "Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program". This is a government program with the terms & conditions set by the governments of Canada and Mexico (and several Caribbean countries). The farmer pays the return airfare, visa fees, provides housing (inspected & approved), guarantees a minimum number of weeks of work and pays a set wage (usually minimum wage or slightly higher). In return the workers leave their homes & families for up to 8 months to work on farms or in greenhouses. Last year over 15,000 workers from Mexico & the Caribbean came to Ontario. The program is available to farmers only if Canadian workers cannot be found to work on their farms.
Working on a farm is never the most sought after job.
Growing up on our fruit farm, I remember the difficulties my parents had securing workers - especially for the harvest. Each morning my Dad would drive to the Farm Labour Pool in St.Catharines to try and get people to pick fruit that day. Some days there were enough workers to get everything picked and some days there were not. It was tiring and frustrating and stressfull never knowing if the crop that you worked for all year would get harvested. We would also try to hire workers for the entire season and even provide housing. Some years we were more successfull than others.
Life is a whole lot easier now that we have good, dependable, consistent workers living right on the farm. One of our Mexican men has been with us for 11 seasons, the other for 5. They know us and how we operate and they know the farm & the work. Whether we are on the farm or away at market, we know the work will be done & done well.
It seems a little ironic - marketing all our produce at local farmers' markets and promoting & benefitting from the "eat local" movement - that we would have to use imported labour to grow & harvest our crops. However in addition to our 2 Mexican workers we also employed 5 students throughout the summer and another 5 locals part time.
But now the guys are back home in Mexico, the students have returned to school and the part timers have been laid off.
Any work that needs to be done is up to us.
That doesn't leave much time for celebration!