Visit highlights resilience of Chatham-Kent farming community


[ad_1]

Content of the article

Even a brief visit to Chatham-Kent illustrates the municipality‘s reputation as one of the most diverse and important agricultural jurisdictions in all of Canada.

Advertising

Content of the article

It is not just a matter of chance, although the climate and garden-like soils are natural advantages. People involved in industry, farmers and workers, take a community approach as appropriate and necessary.

Garland Webster is perhaps best known for his long career as an auctioneer, but he also operates a small farm near Wabash. When approached by Mitch Jennen whose family needed a tractor driver to transport processing tomatoes to the Conagra Foods factory in Dresden, he was ready to help.

“I was working the grading position here,” said Webster. “I was spraying on my own farm and Peter’s son asked me if I wanted to drive. I said yes.”

A short conversation with the longtime farmer quickly revealed one of the challenges of the 2021 season. While western Canada and many parts of eastern Canada experienced far too little rainfall, farmers from north Chatham-Kent wished they had shared some of what they received.

“The tomatoes come off well, but we had seven inches of rain. Some farmers lose up to 40 percent of their crop, ”said Webster.

A few miles south of Dresden, Ed Janssens and his brothers Jerry and Greg, along with other family members, were also harvesting tomatoes. At this particular location, seven inches of rain fell in the early morning of June 26 and over the two week period starting on that date there was a total accumulation of 14 inches.

“Normally we have to do six loads a day. This year we’re just doing three, ”Janssens said.

Advertising

Content of the article

The Janssens deliver their tomatoes to Sun-Brite Foods and Countryside Canners in neighboring Essex County. This year, for the first time since the creation of the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers, the Janssens and other Ontario growers have priced their tomatoes outside of the marketing board system. In previous years, the council gave them the opportunity to establish contracts using collective bargaining.

The number of processing producers has been declining for decades. It continues.

The Janssens are relatively large farmers in the Chatham-Kent agricultural scene. Rob and Vi Chambers, along with their daughter Colleen Scott and other family members, are among the little ones.

The family owns a small farm a few miles northeast of Chatham where they have been growing fresh market vegetables for over 20 years, selling their produce at a stall along McNaughton Avenue. They also raise a few cattle, selling the beef through the freezer trade.

While Coleen has a job off the farm, trading in vegetables has been a part of her life since her high school days. Modest prices mean sales are fast – customers are arriving every few minutes.

Kelsie and Tammy provide smiling service at Greatview Orchards, just west of Blenheim.  Most of the produce - a large assortment of vegetables, tree fruits and berries - is grown directly on the farm along Highway 3. Jeffrey Carter photo
Kelsie and Tammy provide smiling service at Greatview Orchards, just west of Blenheim. Most of the produce – a large assortment of vegetables, tree fruits and berries – is grown directly on the farm along Highway 3. Jeffrey Carter photo jpg, California

“My dad always said he wanted to see the product being sold rather than throwing it out in the field. … I like to do that. I am here seven days a week in the summer and do nothing else.

With her mother ill, the family is uncertain if this will be another year of farm market sales. Colleen said a number of women from their rural neighbor stepped forward to help with the operation, another demonstration of how Chatham-Kent comes together when challenges arise.

Advertising

Content of the article

Securing farm workers has been an issue, not only in Chatham-Kent, but across Canada in recent years and the past two years with the COVID-19 pandemic have been particularly difficult.

There are local employees who have stepped forward like Bonnie Beuckelare, the “head tomato sorter” at the Janssens farm, and members of low-German speaking Mennonite families. But there are also many temporary foreign migrant workers from the Caribbean, Mexico, Thailand and other places that are critical to the industry.

According to two farmers, including Ian Bradley of D. Brad Farms in the former Township of Dover, some Mennonite families in Ontario are upping the auction, possibly due to concerns over COVID restrictions and high real estate prices in Ontario may also be a factor. Some of these families may see an opportunity to return to Latin America or Nova Scotia and other Maritime provinces.

One of Bradley’s full-time workers manages to bring in up to 75 workers during the busiest times of the growing season. “They are the best workers you can find,” Bradley said.

The Bradley family is focused on the production of carrots and onions. Bradley, who works with his father Curtis and other family members, reported a decent year despite wet conditions for much of the summer. He said farmers near Mitchell’s Bay were in worse shape, having faced nine-inch rains in hours on June 26, the largest amount falling in the area that day.

Advertising

Content of the article

According to Eduardo Huesca, of the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, migrant workers and the farmers who employ them have had a difficult time over the past two years. Although there has been government support, the farming community has been urged to shoulder the cost of Covid concerns and deal with new regulations imposed by the government.

“Farmers are often overwhelmed,” Huesca said. “Farming can be a stressful occupation for everyone involved. “

A farmer, who did not wish to be identified, expressed support for his workers, most of whom are migrants from Jamaica. All but one had been vaccinated against COVID-19 on a voluntary basis, a rate much better than for the general population.

He said government oversight of his industry was excessive, a view shared by his workers who take a dim view of any approaching “white truck”, believing it may contain another government employee.

“Guys are good workers. Some of them have been with me for 18 or 19 years, ”he said.

Just outside Blenheim, Jill Fysh relied heavily on her own work in the August heat at FlowerBed Greenhouses, although Fysh employs a number of workers at other times of the year.

Fysh said she learned the nursery trade from her father, Ron Fysh, who operated the original FlowerBed location just south of Kent Bridge, along Kent Bridge Road. While Ron and his wife Sandra focus more on bedding plants, with most sales ending in early summer, Jill operates from spring through fall and was eagerly awaiting chrysanthemum season.

Advertising

Content of the article

Bonnie Beuckelare finds a seasonal job as head tomato sorter for the Janssens family near Dresden.  Jeffrey Carter photo
Bonnie Beuckelare finds a seasonal job as head tomato sorter for the Janssens family near Dresden. Jeffrey Carter photo jpg, California

It started off very busy this year and then there were ups and downs, ”Fysh said. “I have been here for seven years at this place and my dad has been at the other place for 30 years.”

Down Highway 3 from the FlowerBed, two employees greeted customers at one of the area’s many fruit and vegetable retail stores, Greatview Orchards, a second-generation operation operated today by Cindy and Mike Boker.

The Bokers produce a wide range of products, marketed directly to customers, an example of the great diversity of agriculture in Chatham-Kent.

The municipality is literally home to Canadian agriculture from A to Z – think of everything from apples to asparagus to zucchini. Maize, wheat and soybeans remain important crops over large areas, but the overall diversity is astounding.

Sweet corn, both for the fresh market and for processing, seed corn, sugar beets, red beets, cucumbers, fruit trees, berries, greenhouse vegetable production, carrots, onions, parsnips, cattle and many more are all part of Chatham-Kent’s agricultural mosaic.

The harvest went smoothly near Dresden, but there were fewer tomatoes to harvest than members of the Janssens family from other growers in much of the northern half of Chatham-Kent had hoped.  Here, Ed and his son Jared watch Gerry and Greg, Ed's brothers, finish one last lap on a hot August morning.  Jeffrey Carter photo
The harvest went smoothly near Dresden, but there were fewer tomatoes to harvest than members of the Janssens family from other growers in much of the northern half of Chatham-Kent had hoped. Here, Ed and his son Jared watch Gerry and Greg, Ed’s brothers, finish one last lap on a hot August morning. Jeffrey Carter photo jpg, California

Advertising

comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil discussion forum and encourages all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour of moderation before appearing on the site. We ask that you keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications. You will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, if there is an update to a comment thread that you follow, or if a user that you follow comments. Visit our Community rules for more information and details on how to adjust your E-mail The settings.

[ad_2]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.