Creston group tackles accommodation crunch for fruit pickers
Many cherry pickers squat in unsafe camps by Kootenay River
Every summer, hundreds of cherry pickers flock to B.C.'s Creston Valley.
And every summer, many of them wind up squatting in makeshift camps near the Kootenay River, with no running water or bathrooms. Some of these camps have as many as 100 people living outside in the elements during the busy picking season.
Now, a farmer in the Creston Valley is hoping to find safer, cleaner living quarters for the seasonal agricultural workers.
Deborah Nelius and others in a group called Fields Forward hope to establish a clean picker camp this summer.
"It's become more and more of an issue (of) these people that are staying there," she said. "They want to stay somewhere that their belongs are safe, where they have running water and other facilities."
Farmer donates land
Nelius said the seasonal workers arrive at the height of summer when hotels and campgrounds are booked up.
Traditionally, cherry picking season peaks during the August long weekend, but it is expected to arrive earlier this year, possibly the Canada Day long weekend, due to an usually warm spring.
Nelius said a farmer in the Creston area has donated some land that would accommodate about two dozen campsites.
Mayor Ron Toyota applauded the initiative, describing the fruit pickers as crucial to the local economy.
"We're trying to alleviate (the accommodation) problem and make it more friendly," Toyota said. "We want to welcome them because they are an important part of our economy."
Cherries from the Creston Valley are shipped to countries around the world. Once the fruit ripens, they must be picked quickly, Toyota noted.
"These are prime fruit," he said. "It's got to be done and (the cherries) are literally in other countries within days."