Local farms adapting to stay on top of food production
By Jeff Morris
While businesses are easing back into the new normal, the local agricultural industry has also had to adapt to a new set of parameters in their business model.
Carleton MPP Goldie Ghamari hosted a town hall meeting on Zoom May 5 to discuss the local agricultural industry and discuss some of the challenges faced by the largest business and employment sector in the riding.
Ghamari said that containing the spread of COVID-19 is “coming at a cost.” Her objective in the town hall meetings was to gather information and feedback to take back to Premier Doug Ford and his Cabinet.
Like many small business owners, Mark Saunders of Saunders Farm in Munster said that COVID-19 has made him completely scrap his business plans for 2020 and redefine what his business will look like in the coming months and even weeks.
“We’re trying to figure out our final planting because we don’t know what the fall looks like,” said Saunders.
Saunders Farm has added a drive through Farmer’s Market location in Munster where people can order online and drive through to pick up farm fresh produce and other items. Customers can order online, and when they arrive, they can simply call the number on the signs, open their trunk, and wait in their car while their order is placed in the trunk of their vehicle. They can pick
“It’s been very well received,” Saunders said. “We’ve been working with about seven different local producers. We’re going to add more suppliers as soon as we can. We’re looking to be a conduit to help farmers get their food to the local market in a different way. We have the reach, so we’re working with some of these farms to sell their product right away.”
COVID-19 has impacted Saunders Farm for events, as many weddings and other special events have been cancelled due to the pandemic. The uncertainty of what the next few months will bring is also making it difficult for Saunders Farm to plan for pumpkin season and its locally famous Halloween Haunt.
“Even this like planting pumpkins for the fall,” Saunders said, “we don’t know what the fall’s going to look like. We don’t know if they are going to allow 20 people together or 100 people together on a 100-acre property.”
Like any other business in other sectors, Saunders has had to put protective measures in place for his employees and to keep his employees and the general public safe. Sourcing protective equipment will be a challenge for all agricultural businesses.
“Everyone has gloves and masks right now and we are following all the rules,” Saunders said. “As we staff up, we are going to need more of those things.
“Until we have really great protective measures all over the place, some people don’t want to come and work in an environment that is a little bit risky – more risky than their living room.”
Carleton Mushroom Farms near Osgoode has seen its revenue drop by about 35 per cent, with most of that accounted for by loss of business from restaurants.
“What’s most important is the protection of our staff and of fellow Canadians,” Medeiros said.
Medeiros has put new measures in place. Employees have their temperatures taken each day, and there are new hand washing stations in place.
“Last year at this time, it seemed like there were always three or four employees who weren’t coming in because they had a cold or a flu or something. Now, with everyone focusing on washing, social distancing, and everyone wearing a mask on the farm, it’s helping. We have no one who is sick right now.”
Although there are a number of programs in place to help businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, Medeiros said there is nothing out there that would help his situation.
Medeiros added that one of the biggest concerns is support for farms to hire temporary foreign workers (TFW’s) during the pandemic.
“When you realize you’re short of food, it’s too late,” he said. “We have wanted to create a path to permanent residency for TFW’s. There’s a pilot project just beginning, but this should have been done three, four, five years ago. We could have secured year-round agriculture.”
Medeiros said the provincial and federal governments need to recognize the magnitude of the labour force in the ag-food industry and its importance, and support it accordingly.