Norfolk County students are filling the ever-growing positions in agriculture as other summer jobs become obsolete.
The same students that were waitressing or working at summer camps last year have had to look at other venues for employment as those jobs became unavailable due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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While other jobs are being laid off, more and more positions are opening up at local farms.
This year the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs had nearly 55,000 applications for their summer employment opportunity jobs, compared to the 52,000 in 2019.
“With everyone in society there’s been a lot of change, and we’re impacted as well,” said Sarah Judd, owner of the Meadow Lynn Market Garden. “We’re still an essential service and we need to keep producing food. I feel as a farmer I have a moral obligation to produce food.”
Judd said they have seen an increase in people wanting to purchase local produce.
“That’s encouraging to see for a local business, but also challenging as well to grow at the rate to meet the demand,” said Judd.
Meadow Lynn Farms primarily hires locals, with a few migrant workers for strawberry season. This year to meet the demand, they have had to hire more students than previous years.
“We’re very fortunate this year because we had a lot of students apply for the positions that maybe would not have applied in the past because they had jobs elsewhere,” said Judd. “We recognized that we need more help on the farm. My staff for the market garden has grown, it used to be just two of us and now there’s five.”
Last summer, Judd hired Leah Erwin, now 21, to work with her at the market garden.
“Last year I worked directly with Sarah, there were no other students with us,” said Erwin. “We’ve had to expand. If it was just Sarah and me again we wouldn’t have been able to do it.”
Erwin just graduated from the Ridgetown campus of the University of Guelph after studying agriculture, so she believes this job is a perfect fit.
The three additions to the Judd and Erwin team include 18-year-old Kayla Devries, and Michelle Lucas, and Emma Scott, both 19.
“It’s hard work, very hard work, but it is rewarding though,” said Scott. “To see what Sarah has grown over the past six seasons, it’s great to see the industry.”
Scott has previously worked as a waitress, and Lucas has worked as kitchen staff and at day camps.
“That’s kind of on hold right now,” Lucas said regarding previous jobs. “This year jumping into agriculture there’s opportunities and a need. I’ve always been interested in it, and I thought, given the current circumstances, it was a good time to jump into it.”
Scott added she wanted to find a way to help the community throughout the pandemic.
“I felt like I really wanted to help, and to help the people that needed it the most,” said Scott.
The students feel like it is important to step up when the need is there.
“Definitely get involved, it’s really needed right now,” said Erwin. “If you want to see your food supply continue it’s a way to get involved to make sure that you have fresh, local produce.”
In the summer of 2020, the agriculture ministry anticipates hiring 44 students, six of which are in Norfolk County. The average number of OMAFRA student jobs in Norfolk County over the past two years was seven.