Provincial officials developed new protocols in collaboration with leaders in the agricultural industry
On November 16th, Ernie Hardeman, Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) announced the details of the Prevention, Control and Outbreak Support Strategy for COVID-19 in Ontario’s Farm Workers via YouTube live stream.
“Today, we are proud to launch this strategy based on the industry’s and government’s extended experience and lessons learned over the last six months,” Hardeman said.
The strategy comes after months of collaboration between OMAFRA, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development, and agri-food sector stakeholders.
Representatives from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers (OGVG), and the Ontario Fruits and Vegetable Growers Association (OFVGA) attended the announcement and shared strong support of the plan.
With the 2021 growing season around the corner, the government-industry effort has resulted in timely guidelines and plans of action to help tackle threats that COVID-19 poses to farm workers, agri-businesses, and the province’s food supply.
“While farmers have worked quickly to adapt to the pandemic, the sector has faced unique challenges with respect to outbreaks among workers,” Bill George, chair of the OFVGA, stated during the ministry’s announcement.
Following COVID-19 outbreaks in multiple Ontario farms, ag stakeholders needed more support, resources, and a comprehensive strategy to better protect workers throughout the food supply chain.
Collaborators based the guiding principles and actions on three key pillars: before getting on the farm; on the farm; and farm worker housing.
“The strategy includes a thorough framework for the necessary actions and identification of responsibilities for all participants in the sector – from government, to businesses, workers and supporting agencies,” a Nov. 16 release said from OGVG.
The plan equips farmers, workers, and business owners with “toolkits” to ensure accessibility to resources, information, and proactive testing and inspections.
As officials roll out the strategy, continuous collaboration among provincial officials and the ag industry members will be vital.
“We will act in a support role (for) our members and farmers across the province to make sure that they have access to all the tools necessary” to protect their workers and operations, said Tyler Brooks, director of communications and stakeholder relations for the OFA.
Protecting farm workers is paramount, with the entire industry and Ontarians local food supply resting on their shoulders, Hardeman emphasized.
“Everyone’s number one interest is to keep the workers safe. With safe workers, we have a productive industry. With sick workers, we don’t have an industry at all,” he said.
Cover photo credit: Binyamin Mellish
About Farmwork to Feed Canada: Farmwork to Feed Canada (F2FC) is a national volunteer not-for-profit initiative by Canadian communication professionals, students, and recent graduates in communications. F2FC collaborates with farmers, and agri-businesses amid COVID-19 pandemic-related challenges to Canada’s food supply and food security, to engage Canadians, pro bono, with compelling stories about their food system and build support for Canada’s farmers, food producers, and their essential skilled workers.