My first year as chair of this organization has flown by in what seems like a flash. It’s been a busy 12 months, without ever a lull in the issues coming at us or the situations that need the involvement of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA).
Here are some highlights from our many activities; as chair, I’ve been involved in most if not all of them in some capacity.
If you’re a regular reader of The Grower, you’ll know that labour has become an even higher priority file for the OFVGA in the last 12 months. We’ve continued to build on the success of our More than a Migrant Worker (MTAMW) initiative, completing more worker profiles, releasing and promoting news stories that answer questions Ontarians have about international farm workers, and making sure that growers, workers and the horticulture sector are part of the public discourse around temporary foreign workers.
We also added proactive outreach to politicians and bureaucrats. In the past year, we’ve met with dozens of elected provincial and federal officials, as well as government staff to give them an overview of this initiative, share horticulture’s labour story and let them ask questions of our team.
In 2023, OFVGA was invited for the first time to send a delegation to the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) annual review meeting that includes representatives from Caribbean countries, Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), Fruit & Vegetable Growers of Canada (FVGC) and F.A.R.M.S. I was lucky enough to be part of that delegation and it was an eye-opening and useful experience as we continue to work on strengthening our relationships with countries who have been reliable partners to Ontario in the offshore worker programs for decades.
We’ve also been developing a pilot project with El Salvador that will see the first workers from the country come to Ontario farms in the spring of 2024. This is part of our efforts to open up new labour sources for growers in this province.
We hosted another successful in-person advocacy day at Queen’s Park this past year and are in close communications with key provincial ministries throughout the year on issues relevant to growers. Our goal, as always, is to make decision-makers and their staff aware of the fruit and vegetable sector, our needs and wants, and how we can collaborate to meet the objectives of both growers and government.
Key issues include increasing funding for Business Risk Management programs, reducing the burdens related to Environmental Compliance Approvals, pushing for a refreshed focus for the Foodland Ontario program, representing fruit and vegetable growers on land use planning and urban sprawl, and monitoring emerging issues, such as expansion of the federal ban on single-use packaging.
In support of Fruit & Vegetable Growers of Canada (FVGC), we were active on several federal files this past year, including Underused Housing Tax, Bill C-234 on carbon tax exemptions, Bill C-280 for financial protection for growers, and Bill C-282, which prohibits future trade deals that increase foreign access to supply managed sectors.
Behind the scenes, we’ve spent considerable effort this year on a comprehensive governance review and by-law update. Our governance committee, supported by staff, have put an incredible amount of thought and work into reviewing and updating our bylaws to reflect the changing realities of our sector and ensure our organization is compliant with changing government legislation.
In addition to the More than a Migrant Worker initiative, we’ve also started ramping up our broader public communications efforts. Our first sponsored content story about sustainability in Ontario’s fruit and vegetable sector ran in the National Post last fall, along with digital ads on urban panels and billboards and posters in 100 GO Train cars.
We also hosted our first farm-tour day 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.
It’s been a busy, engaging and fulfilling first year for me in the role as your chair and it truly wouldn’t be possible without the tremendous support from my fellow board members and the OFVGA staff. It’s rewarding to work with such an engaged and committed team, and I’m very proud of all the things we’ve been able to accomplish this past year.