'I really love it': Program finds workers to meet harvest demands

The Harvest and Prosper project — a new provincial program — helps newcomers, people on social assistance or disability support, find short-term work in the agriculture industry without affecting any benefits they might receive.

Project helps provide employment and helps farmers with staffing

Leonard Vernet is one of 15 Islanders taking part in the Harvest and Prosper Project launched this fall. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

For many Islanders, the fall harvest is the busiest time of the growing season.  

There's always plenty of work to be done, but there aren't always enough workers to do the job. A new program is helping farmers and Islanders in need of jobs fill that void.

The Harvest and Prosper project — a new provincial program — helps newcomers, people on social assistance or disability support, find short-term work in the agriculture industry without affecting any benefits they might receive.

Leonard Vernet made the move to P.E.I. six months ago and admits he didn't know a single person before moving here. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

Leonard Vernet arrived in P.E.I. six months ago after two years in North Carolina — moving far away from his home country Haiti.

He contacted the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers which told him about the program.

"I really love it, it helps me socialize myself [and] meet new people — that's really good for a newcomer," Vernet said.

To him, the program made all the difference in adapting to a new place. "I came here alone, I have no family here so I have to make new friends, meet people," he said. "I met a lot of people here in my team."

An opportunity to be 'completely immersed'

This fall, 15 people are helping at six farms, including apple orchards, potato fields and vegetable farms. 

Participants who receive benefits can earn earn up to $3,000 without affecting their government assistance.

Greg MacKenzie runs MacKenzie Produce located in Stratford (Tom Steepe/CBC)

"They're working with a group and they're being completely immersed in the culture and the language," said Laurie Loane, the executive director of the P.E.I. Agriculture Sector Council.

"We only have so many people here on the Island that are working in agriculture … to be able to offer them some work and be able to help them and benefit them and benefit the farmers is a great fit."

She said it's an opportunity for newcomers to earn some extra money and get out to see agriculture across the Island.

'Real good feeling'

Farmers like Greg MacKenzie are happy to have the help. 

Last year, he didn't have enough people to get his harvest done.

This time of year is always a struggle for farmers everywhere on the Island, MacKenzie said.

This is Vernet's first experience with agriculture. He says immersive experience's like this are critical for newcomers to the province. (Tom Steepe/CBC )

"This is the first year that I check my phone every morning at 6 o'clock and I'm amazed every morning that there's not texts of people not coming in," he added. 

"With the whole group, and Leonard, there's no issue."

There should be more than enough work to keep Vernet and others involved in the program busy until the end of the harvest season in November. 

The province is hoping to provide the same opportunity to as many as 50 Islanders in the future.