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The race is on to match workers with farmers

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The drive to mobilize idle workers is gaining momentum now that area farmers are on the record with misgivings about their ability to produce a normal crop this year.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated the arrival of the 22,500 offshore workers Ontario farmers employ in a normal season. The Canadian border has hardened until further notice, with new arrivals expected to serve a 14-day quarantine before they can assume their responsibilities.

The situation in Norfolk is complicated by a Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit order that farmers can only quarantine a maximum of three workers per bunkhouse for the two-week isolation period, regardless of floor space.

Offshore workers in Ontario hail from Mexico, Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados and the islands of the east Carribean. Some of these skilled, experienced workers won’t be coming north this year because the government offices that process their paperwork back home are closed due to the pandemic alert.

The latest into the breach are Mike and Krista Timmermans, hobby farmers in Nixon who’ve staged an annual rodeo at their property in recent years.

Mike Timmermans operates a bleacher-rental business that has suffered in recent weeks as news of cancelled events pour in daily. Krista Timmermans – a teacher – has also been sidelined.

The solution they’ve come up with is called Help Canada Grow. For a brokerage fee, the Timmermans will recruit, screen, categorize and pre-approve Norfolk and area residents willing to work on the farm. Farmers are encouraged to file their labour needs with the six-member team and they will package a workforce made to order.

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“We’re looking for general labourers with no experience required,” Timmermans said April 16.

“We’re looking for people who can do the physically-demanding work – people who can stand for long periods and do the heavy lifting of our offshore help.

“We’re also looking for operators of farm machinery – tractors and sprayers and the like — and people with AZ licences to drive trucks on the highway. We can place 50 to 100 workers on a farm in a couple days.”

The global pandemic alert has temporarily idled millions of Canadian wage earners as workplaces everywhere have closed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

With food processing and food retailing deemed essential services, many of these employees are looking for work in agriculture. In Norfolk and elsewhere, the growing season is about to begin in earnest. Those new to agriculture are looking for a point-of-entry.

“I am able-bodied and willing to work, and also have teenagers looking for work, and we are willing to help with this harvesting issue,” Trisha O’Shea, of Woodstock, said in an email.

“How do I find contact information? If you happen to be sharing information with these farmers, feel free to share my contact information with them.”

Help Canada Grow isn’t the only one attempting to match desperate farmers with willing workers.

Fanshawe College in Simcoe is running help-wanted ads on its website while the Workforce Planning Board of Grand Erie is surveying employer- and worker needs alike during the economic shutdown.

The South-Central Ontario Region Economic Development Corporation is using broadcast media to raise awareness about opportunities in agriculture while the Dirty Hands Project is also matching willing workers with hiring farmers in Norfolk on social media.

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