British Columbia·Photos

A glimpse into the lives of migrant workers on an Abbotsford, B.C., farm

Steve Neufeld, of Neufeld Farms in Abbotsford, says his family’s farm would not be able to survive without the help from migrant farmworkers. 

The workers come to B.C. to earn money to send home to their families

Manuel Avila, migrant farm worker, is pictured at Neufeld Farms in Abbotsford. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Unless you work on a farm in B.C., you are unlikely to meet the migrant farm workers who help many of our local farmers stay afloat.

Steve Neufeld, of Neufeld Farms in Abbotsford, says his family's farm would not be able to survive without the work of hired migrants such as 52-year-old Miguel Lizama, who has worked with Neufeld Farms for 12 years. 

Miguel Lizama’s home is in Mexico but he spends over half of every year in B.C. to earn money to send home to build a better future for his three children. As a result, his children have more opportunities. One is studying criminology at a private university in Mexico and another now works in Ontario. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Neufeld Farms has been growing berries, corn, cucumbers, and raising chickens for almost 40 years.

The Neufelds employ 23 migrant farm workers through a government program — the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) — that allows Canadian employers to hire temporary foreign workers for eight months at a time when a Canadian worker is not available.

For the Neufelds to be eligible to hire through the agricultural worker program, they must first post the job locally for two weeks. During that period, Neufeld says they don't ever receive viable applicants, so they go ahead and hire migrant workers. 

Steve Neufeld, left, has built a rapport with many of the workers on his family’s farm. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The workers on Neufeld Farm — most of whom are from Mexico — have come to B.C. to earn money to send home to their families.

Gonzalo Baze, 51, has eight children in Mexico, who all greet him at the airport every time he returns home.

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Gonzalo Baze stacks corn at the Neufeld Market.  (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Baze says it's hard being away from his family. He misses them and worries about not being part of their daily lives, though he knows that working on a farm in B.C. allows him to support them financially.

For Gonzalo Baze, one of the hardest parts about being on the farm is not being able to come home to his wife at the end of the day. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
While in B.C., the farm workers stay at the Neufeld's farmhouse, which has several bedrooms, large communal kitchens, and a living room with couches and a TV. 

During harvest season, work days last as long as 12 to 14 hours. They've come to B.C. to earn as much money as they can to send home, so there is little spare time.

Farm workers load corn into boxes. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
People harvesting strawberries.
Farm workers pick strawberries at Neufeld Farms. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
Can is one of the most experienced farmers at Neufeld Farms. He ran his own farm in Mexico until a cyclone damaged it in 2002. 

For the past ten years, Can, 49, has been coming to B.C. to support his five children and save enough money to start his own farm again in Mexico. 

Manuel Can estimates it should only take about two more years before he saves enough money to permanently move home and start his farm. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Corn is hastily thrown into a large bin as three farm workers push through a corn field. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Manuel Avila, 33, says he can earn, in one hour of work in B.C., as much as he would earn in a full day working in Mexico.

Manuel Avila has three children living in Mexico, the youngest of whom he will meet for the first time when he returns in October. She is just 15 days old. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Ober Najera Cruz, 48, says that his family's appreciation of the money he sends home makes the physically demanding work worthwhile.

Ober Najera Cruz plans to continue coming to B.C. for seasonal work as long as he is healthy because the money and opportunities are better than in Mexico.  (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

When asked about how he sees his future, Lizama says it's no different than his present. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Lizama, Avila, and Cruz say doing farm work in B.C. is the best opportunity for them to provide for their families. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

With files from Clare Hennig