Farm workers ‘feel supported’ as group in Norfolk County hosts appreciation day

With harvest season coming up and many migrant farm workers’ time in Canada coming to an end, a group in Simcoe, Ont., hosted an appreciation day to show gratitude to those workers in the area.

Huron Farm Workers Ministry — a group dedicated to addressing challenges faced by migrant farm workers — organized the event on Sept. 28. The cool, fall afternoon at the park was taken over by the sound of music, chatter and laughter.

“We feel supported by the Latino community in events like this … we get to feel that Latino warmth,” said migrant worker Venny Valois Nava in an interview translated from Spanish.

Valois Nava is from Guerrero state in Mexico and has been making the yearly trip to Canada for 15 years.

He said events like the one on Thursday were not only a good opportunity for him and his coworkers to see a bit more of the town where they spend nearly six months each year, but also to learn more about resources available to them.

“We learn who we can talk to and how to reach [them],” he said.

The event had workers participate in games for a chance to win prizes. (Aura Carreño Rosas/CBC)

An opportunity for Simcoe neighbours to learn about farm work

The Huron Farm Workers Ministry partnered with The Neighbourhood Organization (TNO) to organize the event, which they hope will become an annual tradition.

They had information booths and volunteers going around talking to people and offering information about their rights in Canada, resources, etc.

Representatives from Norfolk County, the Norfolk Fire Department, banks such as CIBC and RBC, the AIDS Network, and more also had booths set up.

Two men getting food from a food truck.
A food truck was set up for workers to get food free of charge. The truck owner said he prepared Jamaican foods as well as a special fusion: jerk tacos. (Aura Carreño Rosas/CBC)

Joanne Hall was one of those volunteers standing under the ministry’s tent and giving out prize bags. She said events like this also teach neighbours of the area about what farm workers do.

“There’s a lot of sacrifice on [migrant farm workers’] part that we are not aware of,” she told CBC Hamilton at the event.

“A few people have been through and said ‘what’s going on?’ So if we can get more volunteers, then we can get these guys more help.”

Hall started volunteering in April after seeing the work the Huron Farm Workers Ministry does at a local church on Thursdays and Fridays, where they host a quick meal and workers can catch up with others in the community.

She said the work has been fulfilling, but also eye-opening to the stories many have to tell.

Hall hopes more events like the appreciation day for farm workers will raise awareness in the community and motivate people to join the cause.

“How cool it would be to have Norfolk County on the map as being the kindest hosts to our migrant workers? That would be a wonderful tagline to have,” she said.

‘They deserve to be able to let their hair down’

The event also saw at least 100 bicycles being given away to workers who wanted to take them.

The bikes came from London, Ont., after the St. Aidan’s Anglican Church started a drive to collect broken and unused bikes from the community.

“We started off thinking we get maybe 15, 20 bikes. Yeah, no, we got [that amount] in the first two days,” said AJ McCallum.

“We ended up with about 150 to 200 bikes that we were able to fix up and donate.”

This was the church’s second yearly drive.

McCallum, who used to be a mechanic, fixed most of the bikes, made sure they were “safe and roadworthy” for the occasion, and delivered them to the park.

Nine men posing for a photo behind a number of bycicles.
AJ McCallum — middle, blue shirt — refurbished most of the approximately 100 bikes given away at the appreciation day for farm workers. He says bikes help workers get out of the farms and ‘let their hair down.’ (Aura Carreño Rosas/CBC)

“Some people get stuck on farms because they’re out in the country and they can’t get into town to just go like, get a beer, go get some groceries. So it gives them a way to get off and be social and have fun,” he said.

“They work hard, they deserve to be able to let their hair down.”

Valois Nava said he’s excited to go back home, adding that the first thing he’ll do once he gets home is visit his two granddaughters.

“It’s always good to go back home, you can feel it. Even though often things [back home] have changed, you’re always glad to go back to your country,” he said.

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