Why locals aren't working in Okanagan agriculture - InfoNews

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Why locals aren't working in Okanagan agriculture

Hundreds of people come from Quebec to work as fruit pickers in the Okanagan, but why don't locals find the jobs appealing?
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
April 18, 2017 - 8:00 PM

KELOWNA - During the summer months, Okanagan farms and orchards attract workers from around the world and around the country, but often, strangely, that doesn't include locals.

They are more likely to come from Quebec or Mexico out of necessity — there just aren't enough people in the Okanagan interested in doing the work. That may be for a variety of reasons, including lack of awareness of what work is available, according to sources who work in the industry. It might also be more fundamental.

“I don’t think culturally we raise our kids to work on a farm,” Dorenberg Orchards president Madeleine van Roechoudt says. “As a society I feel like we tend to view agriculture as a negative, and not a positive experience.”

The majority of seasonal workers she hires are from New Zealand, Australia and Europe. She says it’s rare she has people from Kelowna applying for seasonal positions.

“For some university students, working seven days a week for their available months would be great,” van Roechoudt said. “But some people may want a more fixed schedule that doesn’t change with weather and crop.”

Traditionally, the labour gap has been filled by travellers from Quebec.

“For many years it has been a right of passage that youth from Quebec come to B.C. to find summer work - either planting trees or picking cherries,” B.C. Fruit Growers' Association general manager Glen Lucas says.

Although he doesn’t have an official count of how many workers are from Quebec, he guesses it's roughly 1,000 each year.

“Because most of these youth return home for college in late August, most of the apple harvest is done by ‘real’ locals who are permanent residents of the Okanagan,” Lucas said. “But the Mexico and Caribbean (Seasonal Agriculture Worker Program) workers are very important during the fall apple and pear harvest.”

Lucas says for younger people, more urban jobs might be more appealing.

“It’s very heavy work, or in the packing houses can be very repetitive work, so that seems to be something that deters people,” he said. “There are more urban jobs available for young people that seem to align more with their expectations.”

According to Lucas, before the seasonal agriculture worker program was implemented, it was difficult to hire enough labour.

“Before, farmers would have to decide which acre would yield the best crop, because there just wasn’t enough people to harvest them all. Labour is a critical component: Without labour, you’re without a crop.”

However, Lucas says he wants to remind people looking for work that there are jobs in the industry that aren’t labour intensive.

“There are many skilled and management jobs in farm operations,” he said. “There are many local jobs that depend on the tree fruit sector, even though we may not be directly involved in the growing or grading of the fruit.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Jenna Hickman or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2017
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