Vaccinations are taking place at the airport for migrant workers entering Chatham-Kent this year.
Two dozen workers from Mexico arriving at the Sunshine Asparagus farm in Thamesville received their COVID immunity shots upon arrival in Canada. Just last month it was unclear if this initiative would take place or if workers would have to quarantine for two weeks and then have to find a vaccine locally.
“We were very happy about that,” says John Jaques of Sunshine Asparagus. “Dr. Colby (Chatham-Kent Medical Officer of Health) was pushing that and that certainly made a lot of sense.”
“All of our workers had negative tests in Mexico, they had negative tests at the airport and they’ve had two negative tests since they arrived on the farm,” says Jaques.
Vaccinations aren’t the only COVID hurdle for farms. Many have had to expand living quarters for workers after condensed spaces contributed to several COVID outbreaks on farms last year.
Provincial Agriculture Minister Ernie Hardeman said last month farmers would be eligible for up to $15,000 to help with expenses for bigger living areas, PPE and travel costs. But Jaques says he spent at least $100,000 in 2020 to boost safety, including building two new housing units.
“It would be nice if they did come up with something major,” says Jaques of government’s proposed aid. More upgrades have been necessary this year after visits from the municipality and fire department.
“It’s a full-time job just keeping government happy,” says Jaques.
This year COVID isn’t the only thing hampering production. A frost that’s settled over Chatham-Kent through the first half of May has kept asparagus from sprouting. “We’ve been hit by frost four or five times now,” says Jaques. “That just kind of wipes out the asparagus that is up.”
“Right now we’ve got 24 guys sitting in the bunkhouse waiting to go to work,” says Jaques. “I feel bad for them because they come here to work. They don’t want to sit in the bunkhouse.”
Environment Canada has issued a frost advisory that’s expected to last well into this week.
The cold weather did spring forth a sweeping show of kindness though. Jaques put out a call for warm clothes for the workers when it became clear temperatures weren’t heating up.
“It was just an amazing response from the community,” he says.
Donations came in droves. “We actually had so much that we called six or seven other farmers that needed clothing for their workers,” says Jaques. “People were very generous and the guys were very happy to see it.”
Jaques is hoping for two or three more workers to arrive soon, which will leave the farm just short of its usual 30 worker total.
Alex Kurial, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Independent