'A huge success': Pilot project helps address worker shortage on P.E.I. farms

A pilot project connecting Prince Edward Islanders in need of jobs with work on farms has had an added bonus. The Harvest and Prosper Project ended in December, but some of the participants have been offered full-time employment this winter, helping fill a void on P.E.I. farms.

More than a dozen participants in the pilot project landed full-time jobs after the program wrapped up

Leonard Vermet was one of the participants in the Harvest and Prosper pilot project this fall. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

A pilot project connecting Prince Edward Islanders in need of jobs with work on farms has had an added bonus.

The Harvest and Prosper Project ended in December, but some of the participants have been offered full-time employment this winter, helping fill a void on P.E.I. farms.

"The project exceeded our expectations," said Roxanne Carter-Thompson, executive director of The Adventure Group, one of the partners in the pilot program.

"This was a huge need for them, they have been crying for employees."

Change their life

The Harvest and Prosper project helped newcomers, people on social assistance or disability support, to find short-term work in the agriculture industry without affecting any benefits they were receiving.

The P.E.I. government, the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers to Canada and the Agriculture Sector Council also supported the program.

Of 32 participants in the program, more than a dozen landed full-time jobs after the pilot ended.

"So that's a really high number, we're really happy with that number," Carter-Thompson said.

"What it means for them is it's going to hopefully change their life, now that they're on a track of full-time employment and they can provide for their families."

More than a dozen of the participants found full-time jobs after the project ended. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

Carter-Thompson said they started the pilot project with 10 employers, all of whom stayed with the program to the end and gave feedback and recommendations.

"We are hoping to see that this project will move forward but we don't have the commitment at this time," Carter-Thompson said. 

"But the partners are very happy about the success of this initiative."

Some farmers would like to see the project continue year-round at processing and packing plants. (Tom Steepe/CBC )

Changing perceptions

The executive director of the PEI Agriculture Sector Council is also excited to see program participants find full-time work.

Laurie Loane cited not only the immediate benefits but also the long-term spinoffs. 

A number of P.E.I. government departments helped fund the pilot project. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

"If they have full-time employment and like what they're doing then they're also talking to their neighbours, they're talking to their friends," Loane said.

"They're also changing people's perception of what it is to work in agriculture and that is then bringing more people into our industry and ending up with full-time jobs."

Loane would also like to see the pilot continue and expand.

"Hopefully going forward we will have more farms that are interested and we'll have more people taking advantage of the opportunity to try this sector and possibly end up with possibly having a full-time job," she said. 

'Really into it'

Rod Steenbruggen, general manager at Canadian Nectar Products in Alliston, P.E.I., said the Harvest and Prosper project has helped him fill jobs this winter.

"It's challenging, I wasn't sure how these kids would feel about it, if they had a passion for growing food, and it turns out I've met a few that are really into it," Steenbruggen said. 

The pilot project included 10 employers across Prince Edward Island. (Government of PEI)

He would also like to see the program go year-round.

"It's not just the harvest, that's just one element," Steenbruggen said. 

"I meant there's processing plants, there's packaging of fruit, and to be at the ground level, to be on the farm in production, is your best learning tool available."