An open letter to the people of Windsor-Essex: Keeping Workers Safe

An open letter to the people of Windsor-Essex

I’m Mike Del Ciancio, a local greenhouse vegetable grower in Ruthven. I’m a third-generation farmer and we’re about to welcome the fourth generation to our family. We grow three acres of Roma tomatoes and three acres of eggplant. We grow the produce on behalf of our marketer Mucci Farms, who in turn, sells most of our vegetables to Costco.

Our family has four local employees, three from the same family who’ve been an essential part of our farm for many years. We also have between five and 15 employees from Mexico. Most of them have been with us for many years too; one group, all from the same family of multiple generations, have been coming to our farm for 13 years.

This year has been unlike any other for all Canadians, and it’s no different on our farm. We’ve taken many extra steps this year to do as much as we can to keep our employees healthy and ensure their time with us is as safe and as convenient for them as possible, while continuing to grow food.

That includes setting up online banking and organizing food deliveries, limiting unnecessary outside people from coming to our farm, providing satellite TV and high-speed internet, ensuring safe worker housing and making sure they know that they will get paid no matter what.

Greenhouses like ours already follow food safety protocols like wearing gloves and frequent disinfecting and hand-washing, but everyone is now also wearing masks and face shields, and we’ve added plastic barricades around our packing areas. We’ve also staggered work and break times and are keeping physical distance wherever possible.

We have a bulletin board where we post current information and we make sure it’s all translated into Spanish so that language isn’t a barrier to keeping employees informed. I also took everyone to our local hospital for a COVID-19 test and all of us, myself included, tested negative.

We’re a smaller farm, so we’re a fairly tight group; my mom will cook home-made meals for our employees and I get a lot of meals catered in for them just to make things a bit easier on them.

Our industry organizations are working with all levels of government to provide COVID-19 health and safety training guidelines for growers. As the pandemic progresses, the world is learning more about COVID-19 and how it behaves, so as growers, we’re continuing to adapt as quickly as we can to a virus that is indiscriminate in where it strikes and who it affects.

One of the things our industry has learned, for example, is that some recent outbreaks on farms across Ontario are believed to be linked to the use of unregulated local recruitment agencies whose contract workers moved from farm to farm.

As growers, we can all help reduce community spread by limiting movement of local temporary workers from one farm to another and making sure local and international employees work apart from each other wherever possible.

It is very important to get workers tested, as well as making sure they know what to do should they test positive. A step-by-step procedure for self-isolation and making sure they feel supported and their concerns are addressed is essential to earning trust and keeping morale within your team.

For me, it’s incredibly humbling to have the same employees come to my farm year after year and show me pictures of their growing families and of the improvements they’ve been able to make to their homes and in their communities as a result of the jobs they have here in Ontario.

We couldn’t do our job of growing food for Ontario dinner tables without them, and we all need to do our part to ensure their health and safety. I’m proud of my employees and I’m proud to be an Ontario farmer.

Mike Del Ciancio, greenhouse vegetable grower Ruthven, Ontario

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