"COVID-19 has presented the entire agriculture industry with unprecedented challenges. As farms, we have an important duty: to continue operating as an essential service and keep our crops growing strong while putting strict health and safety procedures in place to keep our teams safe. This is an ongoing challenge for all farms–but we know we need to keep both our workforce and the food supply secure if we’re going to pull through this pandemic together." That is said by John Ketler, Vice President with NatureFresh Farms.
In the newly released documentary 'The Hardest Harvest', he and CEO Peter Quiring look back on what happened at their farm this summer and give their Guest Workers a platform to talk about their experiences with and perspectives on the Guest Worker program.
"Transparency is one of our company’s key pillars. Whether we’re talking about how we grow our tomatoes, or how we treat our team, we’ve always been an open book," Peter Quiring says. "It is our hope that this documentary will help us continue to be fully transparent about who we are and what we stand for, as well as help us share the details of what happened at our farm this summer. This will be a pivotal chapter in our company’s story, and it deserves to be told in full."
"Our biggest challenge from COVID-19 came at the end of June when we decided to perform a mass COVID-19 testing at our operation. It was our hope that others in our industry would see the importance of performing testing at farms and follow our lead," John continues.
"Although we had done everything in our power to prevent COVID-19 from spreading within our workforce by closely following (and often exceeding) regional health regulations and policies, we still had over 180 of these tests come back positive (with the vast majority of them being classified as positive asymptomatic cases). As a result, roughly 400 Guest Workers at our operations were required by local health authorities to quarantine. With such a huge percentage of our workforce in quarantine, our operation shut down completely for 3 days."
"On July 15th, we were overjoyed to welcome a healthy and eager team back to work, but there is no doubt that this shutdown had a significant impact on our people and our plants."
How did these challenges impact our team and our operations?
John: "Hundreds of our team members – our family members – were isolated in quarantine, many people from the community believed we were treating our people poorly, and millions of plants had no one to care for them for days. There’s no glossing over it–it was a really difficult situation. But you never know how strong you are until it’s your only option."
"While hundreds of our Guest Workers were in quarantine, we visited as often as we could to deliver meals and goodie bags. In group chats we shared messages of encouragement and support to help ease feelings of isolation or disappointment. And when everyone was cleared to return to work, our Guest Workers were met with applause, cheers, and welcoming messages from our local team. The value we place on all our team members is immense–without them, we can’t do what we do. Period. Our Guest Workers are no exception, and while we show them our appreciation whenever we can, we know that more can always be done to give these incredibly hardworking people even greater praise, acknowledgement, and support."
"We also can’t discuss this experience without touching on how our crops were affected. The vitality, quality, and productivity of roughly 165 acres of our crops in Ontario was severely affected by our inability to tend to the plants properly for multiple days. Not only did we have to throw away thousands of pounds of fresh produce, we also had to tear out 50 acres of our crops because they could not be salvaged. While we have since replanted, the losses we experienced from these failed crops cannot be ignored."
Guest worker program
The film focuses on the Guest Workers that have come to Canada as an opportunity to work, and for some a way to provide for their families. The documentary captures the personalities and perspectives of several guest workers, giving them a platform to share their experiences over the past summer but also speak about their overall time at Nature Fresh Farms.
“People are going to get a lot out of this documentary, no matter how familiar they are with agriculture,” explained John Ketler, Vice President. “Even if you’re familiar with Guest Workers and how valuable they are to our food system, it’s not often that you get to hear from them directly about their experiences and dreams, or their perspectives on the program they’re an integral part of. Their voices deserve to be heard.”
The Guest Workers that have chosen to come to Canada have had to make personal sacrifices in order to work here while being away from their families for months at a time, Nature Fresh Farms understands the importance of creating a supportive and safe living environment to help make the transition easier. They hope that this documentary clears up any misconceptions people may have had regarding the treatment of their employees and that there is no question if they truly value, support, and care for their team.
“Transparency is one of our company’s key pillars. Whether we are talking about how we grow our Tomatoes, or how we treat our team, we’ve always been an open book,” shared Founder and President, Peter Quiring. “We hope this documentary will help us continue to be fully transparent about who we are and what we stand for, as well as help us share the details of what happened at our farm this summer.”
In addition to the documentary, Nature Fresh Farms released an information page on their website to provide additional information answering some frequently asked questions about their on the Guest Worker Program and introduce a few of the individuals participating in the program.