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Summerland, B.C., orchardist bolsters on-site picker facilities to combat COVID-19

Summerland, B.C., orchardist bolsters on-site picker facilities to combat COVID-19

A second-generation Summerland, B.C., orchardist is enhancing on-site facilities for seasonal agricultural workers to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 as harvest is about to get underway.

Annie Beulah, whose family has been farming 30 acres of land since 1982, says they’ve added a kitchen and hired two cooks to provide meals to approximately 30 domestic fruit pickers, who will camp in the orchards for three to four weeks beginning July 20.

Read more: ‘Real threat to food security’: pandemic blamed for drop in Okanagan’s fruit production

“They’re not going to be grocery shopping, they’re not going to be in the super markets and hopefully reduce contact with people in the community,” Beulah said.

“It’s been a dream for years to have better facilities, because I feel like people will work harder for you and enjoy their experience more and want to come back and work for us,” she added.

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The cherry harvest at Beulah Orchards in Summerland, B.C., will begin on July 20.
The cherry harvest at Beulah Orchards in Summerland, B.C., will begin on July 20. Shelby Thom/Global News

Up to 1,500 migrant workers travel to the South Okanagan from Quebec every harvest season, a province hit hard by the coronavirus with more than 55,000 confirmed cases.

Do new federal rules for fruit pickers from outside of B.C. go far enough?
Do new federal rules for fruit pickers from outside of B.C. go far enough?

Farmwork is designated an essential service and there are no inter-provincial border closures in place, but fewer French Canadians are expected to make the journey across the country this year.

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“COVID has definitely scared off some people,” Beulah said. “So that is definitely nerve-wracking as a farmer.”

Not all farmers have the resources to build on-site accommodations for seasonal workers and that is where the District of Summerland and the B.C. government are stepping in.

Summerland has received funding from the province to open a designated space for fruit pickers within the Peach Orchard municipal campground from July 8-31.

Read more: Coronavirus: Growing concern about possible influx of fruit pickers to Okanagan

The camp will include 24/7 on-site supervision and will be monitored regularly by district bylaw and RCMP, said chief administrative officer Anthony Haddad.

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“The key rationale for supporting this type of campsite is really from a public health perspective and making sure that there is sanitary requirements in place,” Haddad said.

Farmers urge quick action on government-sanctioned campgrounds for fruit pickers amid COVID-19
Farmers urge quick action on government-sanctioned campgrounds for fruit pickers amid COVID-19

Farmers say accommodations for seasonal agricultural workers has long been an issue in the valley and they hope the support continues long after the pandemic is over.

“I think that would be a really smart move and a helpful thing for our community,” Beulah added.

All seasonal fruit pickers will also need to take a new online COVID-19 awareness course through AgSafe, an independent association representing B.C. farm employer and worker organizations.