Nova Scotia

Nova Scotian farmer gets to know temporary foreign workers in their homeland

Some of Josh Oulton's Jamaican workers have been coming to Nova Scotia for more than a decade. He says getting to know them in their homeland helps him appreciate their sacrifices.

Josh Oulton cultivates mutual understanding by spending time with his employees in Jamaica

Nova Scotia farmer visits the men who work on his farm eight months of the year at their homes in Jamaica


5 years ago
A Nova Scotia farmer travels to Jamaica to understand more about the home lives of the migrant workers he hires each year. 3:20

It's a "farming adventure" involving a role reversal that has proven beneficial for Nova Scotia's Josh Oulton and the Jamaican men he employs regularly.

Oulton hires temporary foreign workers from the Caribbean country for eight months every year. Some have been coming to his farm in the Annapolis Valley for a decade. 

This year, Oulton is learning more about where his workers come from and how they live.

"It's kind of neat to be transported from our life that we know in Canada to this life, and I see that difference." Oulton says.

Many of the Jamaicans hired by Oulton have their own farms back home and Oulton helps out during his visit. If yams need planting, Oulton grabs a shovel and gets to work. It's a relationship the Canadian farmer is interested in cementing.

"I want to let them know that I'm loyal to them," emphasizes Oulton. 

Josh Oulton gets his hands dirty working on Kingsley Cockett's farm in Jamaica. (Blair Sanderson/CBC)

Helping each other

Kingsley Cockett lives in Mile Gully, Jamaica, and farms a steep valley near his home.

Oulton says he's amazed by how much Cockett gets out of every inch of the land.

And Cockett uses some of the techniques he learns in Nova Scotia, such as covering fields with straw to help them retain moisture.

"I'm learning from him and him learn from me," says Cockett.

Kingsley Cockett at his farm's shed in Mile Gully, Jamaica. (Blair Sanderson/CBC)

The money Cockett earns in Nova Scotia helps pay for his children's schooling. It costs the equivalent of $100 Cdn a month per student.

Sound familiar?

Cockett's wife, Kadion Grant-Cockett, says she's used to her husband's annual departure.

"Almost every person in our community [leaves to work]," noted Grant-Cockett. "All of the men travel, some to Canada, some to America, every lady we call ourselves the single ladies."

Oulton sees parallels between his workers in Jamaica, and people in the Maritimes who travel to Alberta to find work.

Watching Cockett's kids on "Sports Day" (Blair Sanderson/CBC)

He says each year a handful of Nova Scotians apply for a job on his farm in the valley. But he says they often quit when work becomes available elsewhere.

Oulton says he has great respect the work ethic of the men he hires.

"I know how these guys lived and where they grew up, and I don't know, it's just interesting to know—and I get my hands dirty."

Lending a hand

Oulton has timed his trip to Jamaica to be as productive as possible.

In the hills near Troy, another one of his workers, Kensley Richards, is adding a room to his house and Oulton spends two days pitching in to help with construction.

Kadion Grant-Cockett says she's used to her husband being away. She tends to the fields when he is in Nova Scotia. (Blair Sanderson/CBC)

For Richards, working in Canada means being able to afford certain things to bring home.Some of the stuff he's bought in Nova Scoatia has made it back to Jamaica -- including a sound system.

"I have family to take care of," he said. "So I go and work and when the work is finished, you are good to come back home to family, and that is my happy wish."

Future Canadian?

Some of Oulton's workers would like to move to Nova Scotia permanently if they had the chance. Anthony Robinson is one of the youngest workers. 

"Yep there are more opportunities for my kids, educational wise," he said. "I would live in Nova Scotia, I wouldn't mind."

But there's no guarantee Robinson would be granted permission to immigrate to Canada. 

Josh Oulton helps his longtime worker renovate his home in a small hilltop Jamaican community. (Blair Sanderson/CBC)

 And so for now, Robinson is grateful for the relationship he has with Oulton in Nova Scotia.

"To come out here and see how we live and spend some time with us [and] with our family and friends? That's to show what kind of guy he is," says Robinson. "We respect him for that and we love him for that."


Blair Sanderson is an award-winning nationally syndicated current affairs reporter for CBC Radio. He's based in Halifax, where he's worked for 10 years. Contact


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