It’s Thanksgiving this month, and as we begin to wrap up another growing season, it’s a good time to take stock of the months we’ve just come through. As always, despite challenges of all kinds, there are many things to be grateful for.
We’ve made our way through our second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, and although things were far from easy, they could also have been much, much worse. Many of us experienced inconvenience, added stress and extra costs as a result of government regulation, quarantine requirements and inconsistent rules for incoming workers.
However, we were thankfully spared the many outbreaks and relentless media and public scrutiny that we were forced to deal with last year. And that’s due in large part to one of the big success stories this year for our sector: the COVID-19 vaccination clinics at Pearson airport for incoming seasonal workers.
This program was established as a direct result of a partnership between the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA) and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA)’s COVID Agri-Food Secretariat. It helped make a tremendous difference in our ability to keep workers safe and healthy throughout this growing season.
Through approximately 80 clinics, more than 10,000 workers from Jamaica, Mexico, Guatemala, St. Vincent, Trinidad & Tobago, Honduras, and Barbados were given the opportunity to receive a COVID-19 vaccine as they arrived in Ontario to begin their work contracts this year.
Clinics were offered for all incoming flights carrying 25 or more seasonal workers. OFVGA, with funding from OMAFRA, supported these clinics with vaccine and other COVID-19 health and safety resources for workers, interpreter support for flights from Mexico, and funds for bussing workers to the airport vaccination site.
We appreciate the extra efforts of staff at Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (FARMS) and CanAg Travel who supported the initiative as part of their ongoing coordination of the seasonal worker arrival process. Clinic operations were also supported by OMAFRA, Ministry of Health, OFVGA, Pearson Airport and consular representatives from the workers’ home countries.
Local health units also need to be commended for stepping up to offer second doses (or first and second doses) to workers with dedicated vaccination clinics, as well as their ongoing outreach efforts to help reduce vaccine hesitancy.
This was an enormous undertaking and one that could not have happened as smoothly and successfully - or perhaps even at all - without the strong working relationship between our organization and the OMAFRA COVID Agri-Food Secretariat.
The joint willingness to plan and prepare meant we were ready to launch airport vaccinations on April 10 with a flight of incoming workers from Mexico. And an ongoing commitment by everyone involved to continually improve the process helped ensure the success of the airport vaccination clinic program.
Last winter, OMAFRA also supported our sector with funding to develop resources for temporary foreign workers around COVID-19. We now have a library of culturally appropriate videos, posters, ads, information sheets and other resources in different languages and they’ve been used by workers, growers and public health units throughout this season.
Although we are all hopeful that the end of the pandemic is in sight, there is no doubt its impacts will continue to be felt on-farm into the next growing season. We appreciate the valuable role the Secretariat has played in making all of these positive initiatives happen and we hope OMAFRA will continue to keep this important resource at the disposal of the industry into next year.