Imagine the food that will be on the table for your next meal. Have you ever wondered who plants, tends and harvests the fruits and vegetables you are eating?

In Canada, migrant farm workers are important contributors to the production of our food, but COVID-19 border restrictions and quarantine requirements resulted in fewer workers being available to provide their much-needed support to our agricultural industry this year.

Statistics Canada reveals in their COVID-19 Disruptions and Agriculture: Temporary Foreign Workers report that temporary workers from more than 100 different countries accounted for nearly 55,000 jobs in the Canadian agriculture industry in 2018. These skilled labourers were mostly employed on fruit and vegetable farms as well as at greenhouses and tree nurseries. A shortage of skilled foreign labourers has the potential to impact Canada’s domestic food production concludes the report.

The workers who come to Canada face a number of challenges:

  • long journeys to Canada
  • rural worksites that are often isolated from cities or others who share their culture
  • language barriers if they don’t speak English or French
  • loneliness
  • social isolation from family and friends

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted how essential migrant workers are to the Canadian food supply. They deserve our gratitude and our help while they work and live in our communities.

“Migrant workers are an integral part of our communities, some are here for eight months of the year, some longer, one or two years depending on their contract. They are our neighbours, our friends. Many of them have families up here” said Kit Anders, a Migrant Farm Worker Organizer for the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.

The World in Burnaby Project Team in Burnaby, B.C. put together a list of 100+ Ways to Welcome newcomers to Canada. Many of the ideas could help our migrant workers feel more welcome as they toil to plant and harvest Canadian crops.

  • Smile, nod or say hello.
  • Take the time to learn their names and how to pronounce them properly.
  • Politely ask if there is any way you can help them.
  • Get to know them: ask about their home and culture.
  • Initiate warm conversations with newcomers in parks, playgrounds and other public spaces.
  • Offer to practice English with a migrant worker.
  • Be patient with language barriers. Speak slowly and use easier words.
  • Share tips about where to buy quality and affordable goods. Advise them where to buy groceries and household items, and where to find banking institutions, faith communities, etc.
  • Ensure they know to call 9-1-1 in an emergency.
  • Give directions if someone seems lost. If possible, guide them.
  • Challenge racial stereotypes or jokes.
  • Ask to learn a common phrase in their language.
  • Offer gentle correction if you notice they’ve made a Canadian cultural faux pas.
  • If you speak another language, offer to help translate.
  • Volunteer with a newcomer association or a community program.
  • Share information about welcome programs, such as the Canada Newcomers & Immigration Association or the Roman Catholic Diocese of London, Ontario’s Migrant Workers Ministry.
  • Teach the basics of how to navigate the local area. This could include how the street system(s) work as well as the area’s prominent landmarks.
  • Share information about public wellness facilities or programs in the area (e.g. recreation facilities, drop-in wellness programs)
  • Provide information about free mental health resources available in the community. Preference (where possible) should be given to resources which are offered in the language spoken by the newcomer.
  • Offer to help with small things that are made easier by a second person; such as lifting or carrying a heavy object.
  • Invite a migrant worker to share a meal with you or your family.
  • Teach a newcomer how the Canadian postal system works and how to send and receive mail.
  • Donate to programs that make welcome kits for migrant workers. For example, residents of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, collect items to make welcome bags for migrant workers. Their effort produced more than 500 bags in 2019.
  • Purchase from local producers and honour the hard work of Canadian farmers, producers, labourers and foreign workers.
  • Promote the products of local farmers and agricultural producers to others in your social networks

Migrant workers not only bring their skills and work ethic to Canada, but also their unique perspectives and identities. Now is our chance to welcome these individuals with open arms and honour the many wonderful contributions they make to Canada.