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How these Summerland orchardists got through the pandemic without exposures

Farm workers at Carcajou Fruit Company in Summerland. Protocols in use even before the pandemic enabled the Summerland cherry orchard to thrive during last year's farm worker shortage.
Farm workers at Carcajou Fruit Company in Summerland. Protocols in use even before the pandemic enabled the Summerland cherry orchard to thrive during last year's farm worker shortage.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED /Carcajou Fruit Company

Summerland fruit farmers Jan and Keith Carlson survived a tumultuous year in the agricultural industry in 2020 in spite of the restrictions on labour imposed by COVID-19.

The owners of Carcajou Fruit Company put strict health rules in place and ensured their workers followed them. The result was a COVID-19 – free environment for around 60 workers employed on the Carlson’s 160-acre orchard, mostly of cherries.

The Carlsons have always paid attention to healthy and safe worker accommodations in the orchard, but last year beefed up the number of workers’ washrooms and washing facilities in the orchard.

They also supplied colour-coded individual utensils for field kitchen use, split their farmworkers into three separate camps and put a rule in place restricting movement between the camps.

Jan says workers cooperated and stayed in their bubbles. They were also required to self-assess each morning for signs of sickness.

Other enhanced hygiene practises included restricting the number of people travelling in the farm’s van, as well as designating tool, vehicle and implement use.

A portable toilet was also purchased that could be easily moved around the orchard.

She says the initiatives weren’t cheap, but believes the extra steps helped the orchard thrive, even as COVID-19 rules were introduced.

"We already had a pretty good start,” Jan says.

She says they were able to maintain a healthy labour force and pick most of their crop.

What will happen this year is a big question mark as the Carlsons move forward with plans for 2021.

They’d like to see everyone protected before coming to the orchard, but immunization schedules may make that impossible.

"We made a pact within our family management group that everyone coming into harvest (in late June) would be immunized. We don’t yet know what that will look like, but that is our goal,” she says.

In the meantime, Carcajou Fruit Company is preparing to grow a lot of cherries this year.

“It’s going to be a big crop. We are really unsure when we can get foreign workers in, and I think locally, people are really concerned about exposure to other people. We shall see,” Jan says.


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