Some northern Ontario farms bringing in migrant Mexican workers

It's harvest time across northern Ontario. And in a handful of fields, that work is being done by migrant farm labourers brought in from Mexico.

Only a fraction of the 18,000 migrant farm labourers who come to Canada work in the north

Leisure Farms manager Mitch Deschatelets chats with migrant farm worker Ariseo Fuentes, one of 13 Mexican labourers he brought in this season. (Erik White/CBC )

It's harvest time across Northern Ontario. And in a handful of fields, that work is being done by migrant farm labourers brought in from Mexico.

Leisure Farms in Sturgeon Falls has been bringing in workers from Mexico for the last 12 years.

Manager Mitch Deschatelets says they decided to access the federal government farm worker program when their farm was expanding with more vegetable fields, as well as growing their autumn tourism operation.

"Everything is done by hand, we plant by hand, harvest by hand. It takes a lot of hands to be able to do all that," says Deschatelets.

He says it's also been getting harder and harder to recruit local farm hands, since its seasonal work and lower wages than other jobs in the region.

"Every year there's less and less Canadians wanting to do these types of jobs," says Deschatelets.

Migrant workers prune raspberry plants at Leisure Farms in Sturgeon Falls. It is one of only a handful of northern Ontario farms that brings in migrant labourers. (Erik White/CBC )

This year Leisure Farms has 13 farm workers from Mexico, including Ariseo Fuentes who's been coming up every spring for the last 12 years.

He says they don't have raspberries back in Mexico and certainly don't have fields of pumpkins, since Halloween isn't as big a deal.

Over the years, Deschatelets has become fluent in Spanish... and spends part of his winter holidays visiting them in Mexico.

"I'm really close with them,"  he says. 

"Yes, I'm their boss, but I consider them good friends."

Deschatelets says the migrant labourers get paid the same as his Canadian workers, which is about 10 times what they'd make back home.

He says it's not unlike Canadians who travel for work.

"Like diamond drillers, they'll leave for months at a time, they'll make big bucks, but they're gone for that time. So, it's a balance," says Deschatelets. 

Mitch Deschatelets is the manager of Leisure Farms in Sturgeon Falls. (Erik White/CBC )

Canada brings in 18,000 farm workers every year and they don't come without some controversy.

Some complain that they take jobs away from local labourers, while others claim the workers are being mistreated on some farms. There is also a campaign this season called Harvesting Freedom calling on the government to make it easier for farm workers to apply for permanent resident status.

One northern Ontario farmer who brings in foreign workers declined to speak with CBC, fearing negative publicity for his business.