Fresh fruit from the Okanagan and Creston Valley will continue to be on the tables of British Columbians this year, as support for work camp accommodations for seasonal fruit pickers has been extended through the 2021 harvest season.
The B.C. government is investing $652,000 so work camps meet COVID-19 health and safety requirements in Loose Bay (Oliver) and Summerland. These work camps have modified their operations, infrastructure and layout to protect worker, employer and public health, and hired an on-site co-ordinator to conduct and implement COVID-19 safety training and protocols, as well as supporting daily health checks.
“The flavours of B.C. fruit are an enjoyable part of our summers, and we want to make sure the growers and workers harvesting the crops are staying safe,” said Lana Popham, Minister of Agriculture. “We need to continue to look after each other as we restart our province, and extending a program that was very effective in preventing COVID-19 outbreaks on our farms and in our communities last year is part of that care.”
Funding is also being provided to support COVID-19 health and safety measures for farms and orchards that offer on-site camping for workers. A dedicated, seasonal position will be introduced in Creston to act as a COVID-19 co-ordinator and to liaise with employers and employees with on-site camping to provide support for safety, health and well-being.
The funding will help B.C. growers fill labour shortages by supporting safe camping and accommodation for the approximately 1,500 seasonal workers that come to B.C. from other Canadian provinces to work during the summer months.
“This funding will help provide a safe, secure workforce for the harvest of Okanagan cherries and apples,” said Pinder Dhaliwal, president, BC Fruit Growers’ Association. “The youth workers who come from Quebec and other provinces, including B.C., will be able to camp in a COVID-19 safe environment, and the industry appreciates the provincial contribution to help keep the farm-worker campsites open at the Oliver, Summerland and Creston locations during these times of COVID-19, helping us to ensure the harvest of our amazing B.C. cherries and apples.”
Similar to last year, fruit pickers will need to complete an online COVID-19 awareness course delivered by AgSafe to stay in a designated work camp. The course, available in English and French, includes information on physical distancing, hygiene and cleaning, work pods, transportation, tools and equipment, safe self-isolation and vaccinations. The course also outlines the rights and responsibilities of employers and workers.
The 2021 extension follows a $422,000 investment as part of the Province’s COVID-19 response in 2020. Last year, there were no COVID-19 cases at any organized work camps. The ongoing efforts are a partnership between the B.C. and local governments, Interior Health and the B.C. Fruit Growers Association, to support the safe harvest of B.C. crops, as well as the province’s agriculture sector, economy and food security.
Allan Patton, apple orchardist in Oliver –
“Any help to increase the supply of domestic farm workers at the Loose Bay work camp is appreciated. The facility improvements look good, the residents are co-operating and it is altogether a good scene, with a safe and clean place for workers to stay with all of the facilities in place.”
Karla Kozakevich, chair, Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen –
“Fruit trees and vines are an essential component of our economy in the South Okanagan, and we consider our domestic temporary workers a crucial and appreciated resource in maintaining that part of the food supply system. In providing seasonal accommodations at Loose Bay Campground, we can assist our farmers in a meaningful way. This support from the Province will allow us to make improvements that will help keep our agricultural workers safe, comfortable and available for service, not only during the COVID-19 protocols, but for many years into the future.”
Roly Russell, MLA for Boundary-Similkameen –
“Fruit and wine have been a huge part of the economy, community and lifestyle in the Okanagan for generations, and each harvest brings hopes for the year ahead. Supporting growers in these areas by offering employees COVID-19 safe living areas and training will help with this year’s processing, and support the community return to the summer lifestyle and atmosphere the South Okanagan is famous for.”
The online course can be found here: https://agsafebc.ca/training/online-training/
News release announcing the 2020 safety measures for seasonal fruit pickers:
A backgrounder follows.