Mar 14, 2013 / 5:30 am
Funding for a project designed to help farmers, farm workers and communities come together to deal with issues related to seasonal workers ends this month.
But efforts to help the hundreds of workers who pour into the Okanagan will continue through the efforts of the Farm and Community Team Okanagan Similkameen committee.
“The project was successful and really needed,” said project coordinator Lilly Zekanovic, who is completing her term of employment. “And I feel positive the people involved will continue with it. It will not be abandoned.”
The project, initiated by the Penticton & Area Women’s Centre, was titled From Discord to Action: Cultivating community change around seasonal farm work.
It was funded by the Vancouver Foundation and other local agencies.
It came into existence last summer with its primary focus to address issues faced by farm workers and farmers.
The agricultural workers have been coming here for decades, many of them students from Quebec, to fill the labour shortage of agricultural workers.
Ongoing problems over the years have ranged from the pickers not mixing well with tourists to lack of transportation and farmers not having facilities to serve them, said Zekanovic.
Much of the project’s effort was focused on an action planning forum held in November in Oliver that brought together community representatives to help them realize they were all dealing with the same issues.
A handbook with phone contacts for the RCMP, social services, churches and other faith-based organizations and information on health and safety issues, is also in the process of being compiled.
Keremeos councillor Arlene Arlow will chair the ongoing committee.
“I have had an interest in this all along because I care about my community,” she said. “My feeling is seasonal workers get a bad reputation because of the transients who come to the Okanagan and Similkameen to party and annoy people.
So my goal is to raise the profile of the farm workers, so hopefully the transients are less inclined to hang around.”
Her long term goals are tightening employment standards in favour of the workers and creating a formal program of study for them through an organization such as Okanagan College.
In addition, the committee will focus on educating farmers and orchardists on their responsibilities to provide amenities and accommodation to the workers.
“We want them to feel good about what they do and that they are valued in some way, because without the workers we wouldn’t have food on our plates,” she said.
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School District 53 - Okanagan Similkameen
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