Like many of you, I did not anticipate the summer of 2020 going the way it did. However, the learning opportunity it provided was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I heard stories of farms pivoting to serve their customers in different ways, from virtual farm tours to contactless pick-up. But I also heard, though the minority, of some farms that decided not to plant and focus on other priorities. Regardless of where you stood on this spectrum, it was an honour to serve the ag community and share your stories this summer.
March was represented by empty grocery shelves and closed borders. In April and May, the theme was adaptation. How farmers are adapting their operations, how farmers are adapting their equipment (see page 27), and how the government and other organizations were stepping up to help.
In June, the sleepless nights returned as Ontario was shaken by several COVID-19 outbreaks on farms. In Ontario, more than 1,300 migrant workers contracted COVID-19 and three people died during the outbreaks. It was during this time that Fruit and Vegetable published a FAQ resource on navigating COVID-19 outbreaks on Ontario farms. The FAQ answered what happens if a worker tests positive for COVID-19, and it was available in both English and Spanish. Normally for me, a magazine story doesn’t feel critical, but when life hangs in the balance, accessible information becomes crucial.
The outbreaks also shifted the spotlight to agriculture and its reliance on temporary foreign workers. It prompted an overhaul of the program and more concrete actions to be taken to protect the lives of farm workers. There’s no longer time to push off improvement projects, take advantage of the funding available (read more on page 5) to improve worker safety.
The events during the summer also brought agricultural stories into mainstream media on a regular basis. The shake-up to the food system in March and the COVID-19 outbreaks on farms in June broke consumer fantasies about where their food actually comes from. But it also revealed the producer-consumer divide when farmers were painted with one broad brush as bad employers or the idea that farm work was “unskilled labour” was reinforced by those who didn’t know differently. Regardless of what was revealed, it was refreshing to see agriculture being discussed on bigger platforms opening a gateway for understanding.
Throughout the summer and fall, Fruit and Vegetable also continued to tell stories that weren’t related to the ongoing pandemic. Whether it was highlighting influential women in agriculture or profiling innovative growers, the stories reminded us that it wasn’t all bad news. For the next couple of issues I have planned stories that I hope will continue to highlight the innovation, opportunity, and community that represents Canadian agriculture.
On that note, this will be my last season with the magazine, but I will continue to follow the fruit and vegetable industry from afar. Thank you to the growers, industry members, and the Fruit and Vegetable team for the warm welcome, patience to help, and the continued resilience.
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