The Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers (OGVG) intend to launch virtual town halls the last week of July 2020 in an effort to counter what they insist is a lot of misinformation which has found its way into the pages of national and local media. The Windsor-Essex region is now recording the highest number of positive COVID-19 cases of 32 health regions in Ontario, much of them attributable to agri-food workers.
The numbers are not a surprise. As Joe Sbrocchi, general manager, OGVG, points out, “My quick math would indicate approximately four per cent of Canadians have been tested, but about 45 per cent of greenhouse workers in the area have been tested.”
The town halls, intended to answer the public’s questions on a weekly basis, are a response to ongoing negative headlines. As recently as July 25, the Globe and Mail published a story: “Ontario mulling mandatory COVID-19 testing for farm workers, Ford says.”
In response, Sbrocchi says, “OGVG would welcome mandatory testing provided that all workers – both seasonal and domestic – are tested. Lest we forget, as much as half of our workforce can be local personnel. What would be the use of only testing a segment of any farm’s workforce? Seems kind of pointless to me.”
As of July 27, there are currently six outbreaks at greenhouse operations in the Leamington and Kingsville area. An outbreak is defined as two or more people.
“Additionally a number of greenhouse farmers are looking for direction as to how to build additional living quarters, but are getting no clear direction as to what criteria they should follow,” Sbrocchi noted. “A number of operators are looking to do the right thing in terms of whatever any new regulations may be coming down the pipeline. In fact, at least one greenhouse operator has put a $5 million bunkhouse expansion on hold because he is unsure how regulations might change in the months to come. But these facilities do not get built overnight. The window to have these plans in place may soon be lost. And then how does that affect the operator’s ability to ensure a good housing experience for these guest workers into the future?”
Another grower, Mike Del Cianco, was featured in an advertorial in the Windsor Star, explaining his commitment to workers.
Amidst this ongoing crisis, greenhouse vegetable growers have continued to ship tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers for the domestic marketplace at a rate greater than last year.
“The sector felt it was important to satisfy the domestic demand in this very difficult time while, at the same time, the U.S. foodservice industry has been severely slowed,” says Sbrocchi. “Finally, the lack of PACA-protection which would better assure payment in the U.S., convinced some Ontario operators to keep the product that was not needed for U.S,” says Sbrocchi. “We continue to monitor these many interconnected issues on a daily basis.”
The OGVG plans more dialogue with its stakeholders in the Windsor-Essex community through 30-minute town halls via a commonly used virtual meeting platform. People looking to register for these will be able to get details on timing and registration by linking here: https://www.facebook.com/ONgreenhouseVeg/