Bad weather forces Ottawa-area farm to send temporary workers south

Abby Hill Farms in Richmond, Ont., recently transferred four temporary foreign workers to southern Ontario because excessive rainfall in the area has resulted in lower yields and less of a need for farm labour.

'It's a challenge to get them enough hours'

Temporary foreign workers pick sweet peas at Abby Hill Farms in Richmond, Ont. The owner of the farm said he's been forced to transfer four workers to other farms in Ontario because the rainy summer here has led to lower yields. (Reno Patry/CBC)

An Ottawa farm has been forced to transfer some of its temporary foreign workers because rain-soaked fields have led to lower yields — and lower demand for labourers.

Abby Hill Farms has been growing fruits and vegetables in Richmond, Ont., since 1992. Owner Graham Green said this year's weather has presented challenges like never before.

"There's still lots of good stuff in the field to pick, but there's not near the normal yield that you should get off it," said Green.

He said the conditions forced him to make a difficult decision.

Graham Green is the owner of Abby Hill Farms. He says this has been the worst season since he began growing fruits and vegetables in 1992. (Reno Patry/CBC)

"We started with 16 Jamaican and Mexican workers here that help us pick the crops. And we've had to transfer some to southern Ontario. We had to transfer four workers," he said.

Some of those transferred workers had only been in the country for a few days when a huge storm struck the area at the end of June.

Green said months of planning go into bringing temporary workers north to work on farms.

"We planned on these workers in January, and they planned on being here too," he said. "You have a game plan, but the game plan got thrown out the window a long time ago."

'It's raining almost every day'

Green still has a dozen workers, but difficulties remain. 

"Employees are here to make money, and it's a challenge to get them enough hours," he said. "And it's raining almost every day. So it's a real challenge to keep everybody with the hours they're looking for, to be able to support their families and pay their bills."

Claude Brown is from Ochos Rios, Jamaica. He's been working for Abby Hill Farms every summer since 2004 and relies on the income he makes between April and November to support his wife and two kids.

Claude Brown comes from Jamaica every year to work at Abby Hill Farms so he can support his wife and kids back home. He says this year has been a struggle because of the rain. (Reno Patry/CBC)

"This is so very important to me. Because when I come and work, and go back home, I have more money. I can do more stuff, treat my family good, have a good living back home," said Brown, taking a brief pause from picking sweet peas.

"We are struggling. I can't even get much. Normally if it was a good year, we'd have lots."

With his many years of service at Abby Hill Farms, Brown is not necessarily at risk of being transferred, but he's very aware of how the rain has affected the business.

"Lots of sleeping, stuff like that. Sometimes three to four hours [of work] for the day," he said. "Some of the days there's no work. Because it's raining."

The weather has not only affected the growing and picking at Abby Hill Farms, but it's also had an effect on roadside sales.

"It's definitely not as sunny. It's colder, and it's been rainy. So it's been a little slow with customers," said Brianna Dowsley, who works at the farm's fruit and vegetable stand on Perth Street.

Dowsley, who's beginning her fourth year at Dalhousie University in the fall, understands that the weather has meant less work for everyone. 

"When sales aren't up, then he doesn't need as many people. So of course it's hard for me too."

Asked if it will be difficult to pay for school this year, Dowsley replied: "Yeah. But I'll manage."

Brianna Dowsley husks a corn cob at the Abby Hill Farms stand on Perth Street in Richmond. She says business has been slow this year because of the weather. (Reno Patry/CBC)