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Local food production critical during times of crisis

In a normal year, our family farm would be busy getting ready for spring planting season. That means preparing seeds and fields and getting ready to get crops in the ground. Potatoes are our main fruit and vegetable crop, but we also grow onions and a lot of fresh, leafy greens like dill, cilantro, spinach, collards and beets. These are products you see on the shelves in your local grocery store.
 
As we all know, this year is anything but normal for all of us in all aspects of our lives. And we’re all trying to adjust to a world that’s changing around us daily.
 
For us, a big part is trying to figure out how we are going to grow our crops this year and what we are going to grow. We have a full-time workforce of 15 to 20 local employees, along with local seasonal staff and seasonal workers who come to our farm every year from Mexico. A dozen of our Mexican workers are already here and normally, another main group would be arriving around the middle of April.
 
At the moment, all of that is uncertain. Farmers are currently working with the federal government to finalize the rules and protocols under which seasonal farm workers can come to Canada this year, including social distancing, cleaning and sanitizing and self-isolation upon arrival.
 
We recognize how critically important it is to get this right from a public health perspective. The safety of our workers, our families and our community is paramount. At the same time, food is an essential service, and we have to recognize the reality that we’re dealing with nature when it comes to growing crops.
 
That means we can’t just delay the start of planting season by a month until workers can arrive and finish their isolation or extend a harvest season by a few weeks in the fall because our produce isn’t ripe for picking yet.
 
On our farm, we grow and sell approximately 2.5 to three million fresh bunches of leafy greens every year, including cilantro, dill, spinach and Fenugreek – all individually hand-harvested and bunched. Simply put, we can’t grow those crops this year without our international workers.
 
Food safety has long been at the core of what we do so our workers are already accustomed to frequent handwashing and other hygiene procedures. We’ve put new protocols in place to safely manage truck traffic, limit off-site visitors and coordinate grocery purchases for our workers.
 
And since we’re in rural areas, most farms are ideally suited to self-isolation due our open fields, buildings spaced far apart from each other and the lack of close neighbours. In our case, we have two separate farm properties with separate housing facilities, so we can take additional steps to keep newly arriving workers isolated from other people already on the farm, maintain distance, and respect public health rules for self-isolating while letting workers do the important jobs that need to be done.
 
If there’s a production shortfall in Canada because of weather for example, we can usually turn to other countries to buy what we need. COVID-19 is a global situation, however, and everyone is facing similar challenges so we can’t take that access for granted. That makes it important for us to be able to be as self-sufficient as we can in this time of crisis and grow as much food as we can in this upcoming growing season. 
Source : OFVGA