The Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA) has historically always been an advocacy organization dedicated to making sure the grower voice is heard by government. We’ve focused our efforts on the key issues that impact most if not all growers in Ontario, such as labour, safety nets, crop protection, competitiveness and more.
It’s a job we do well, but we know that as public and media scrutiny of our sector increases, we also need the grower voice to be heard more widely so that our sector is part of the public dialogue on issues that impact our farms.
The pandemic brought our industry, growers and workers into the public and media eye like never before, and unfortunately, media coverage and online dialogue aren’t always accurate or balanced, making incorrect or misguided narratives a source of growing frustration for our sector.
This led us to develop and launch the More than a Migrant Worker (MTAMW) initiative a little more than two years ago, shining a spotlight on the importance of seasonal and temporary foreign workers to our sector – and to Canadians – and to let them tell their own stories in their own words about why they come to Canada to earn a living while helping our local farmers grow food for Canadians. We also wanted to make sure that if people are searching for information online about migrant farm workers, our resources are part of what they find.
Over the last two years, we’ve been placing sponsored news stories with the National Post, Toronto Star, Ottawa Citizen and Windsor Star to help address top issues and questions Ontarians have about migrant farm workers who are here through the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) or the agricultural stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program.
Our most current story is running in the National Post and focuses on how keen most workers are to return home to their families and communities as harvest season wraps up. Other topics have addressed housing, compensation, work permits, worker rights and the results of the Jamaican government fact-finding mission. You can find all of these articles on the More than a Migrant Worker website under “news”.
OFVGA has also been responding more frequently to negative media stories about seasonal and temporary workers, such as recent comments by the UN rapporteur about Canada’s TFW programs and the findings of positive TFW employer compliance statistics, particularly in the farming sector.
Senior policy advisor Stefan Larrass and OFVGA Labour Section chair Bill George were both interviewed by multiple publications for response to the UN rapporteur comments, and following the OFVGA news release around the positive compliance statistics, we saw mainstream media coverage that used several quotes and statistics from the release.
Since the spring of 2023, OFVGA has been actively meeting with elected government officials, bureaucrats and industry stakeholders to present the MTAMW initiative and its activities, which has been positively received. Some of the most recent meetings include Senator Rob Black and Ontario Energy Minister Todd Smith. And just this past month, we sponsored a farm bus tour for Toronto-area dietitians that included the opportunity to discuss MTAMW and answer questions about migrant farm workers and Canada’s TFW programs.
Although labour is a very important file for OFVGA, we’re also starting to address other issues with positive outreach too. Our first sponsored content story about sustainability in Ontario’s fruit and vegetable sector is live with the National Post, along with digital ads on urban panels and billboards this fall, and posters that will be seen in GO commuter trains throughout the month of November.
And September saw OFVGA host its first farm tour for government and industry staff to introduce them first-hand to the issues and realities of fruit and vegetable production. Our farm, which grows potatoes and other vegetable crops, was one of the stops on the tour, along with a vegetable greenhouse and a vineyard. It was a great opportunity to interact with government policy staff, while discussing topics specifically related to the horticulture sector.