This is the Life: Frustration growing over need for Creston Valley fruit picker accommodations

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It is hardly a secret that the need for transient workers for the annual cherry harvest puts a stress on community resources. And, with a reported 300 additional acres of cherry trees soon to become a reality, the need for suitable accommodations will only grow.

Fields Forward has been co-ordinating an effort since earlier this year, but one potential campsite was eliminated by concerns for the surrounding neighbourhood. The search continues. And so does the stress.

I couldn’t help but sympathize with the frustrations outlined by the Canyon Community Association at last week’s town council meeting. After all, these volunteers have put in thousands of hours to improve Canyon Park and its facilities, and many have stepped forward with donations to support the efforts. But the park has limited capacity, and when it is taken over by transient workers, its availability to tourists and locals is reduced or eliminated during prime summer weeks.

Especially frustrating is that there is no enemy to shake fingers at. The transients, primarily from Quebec, are here because there is work available, and they have a reputation for having a great work ethic. Orchardists simply can’t get their crops in and processed using only the limited local labour supply. Do the transients cause problems? Of course. They camp where they shouldn’t and crimes like trespassing and shoplifting increase. Many of these young folks are easily identifiable by their appearance and accents, but I doubt they cause any more trouble than any relatively large influx of visitors would create.

The frustration in the community is all the greater because there is really no one to blame. Like it or not, orchardists are not required to provide accommodation. Many, probably most, do, though, and they are deserving of our thanks. Some no doubt take it as a responsibility as good citizens and others might see it as a purely practical investment in that it helps keep good workers throughout the harvest and encourages them to come back each year.

A letter to the editor was a perfect example of the frustration residents in the Canyon area feel. But the proposed solution to impose a tax on orchardists who don’t provide accommodation is a non-starter. Taxation is, and should be, a tightly regulated process. In this situation, no legal requirements are in place for orchardists to accommodate employees, any more than there are for sawmills, breweries or even newspapers, so any attempt to tax would violate laws.

The Canyon Community Association’s request for financial reimbursement is another example of placing blame where there is none. The Town of Creston and the regional district have no obligation to house temporary workers nor to pay for costs incurred by the lack of suitable accommodation. This is an example of anger exacerbated by the lack of a real target.

The issue is simple enough. For about six weeks a year, our local workforce cannot fill all the jobs available. Word gets out and experienced, energetic people arrive to fill vacancies. There are not sufficient accommodations available and no one has to provide them.

But there is no arguing that there is a problem, and that’s where the idea of community comes into play. We do things as a group because they are the right things to do, and not necessarily out of obligation. And that’s exactly what is happening with Fields Forward and its volunteers. They will, no doubt, get support from one or more sympathetic landowners who appreciate the value of agriculture in their community, and funding support will come from local government and businesses. That support will come not out of obligation, but out of a desire to address a community need. This is a case where no one has a legal gun aimed at their head, and thank goodness for that. We already have more laws, rules and regulations than we need or probably want.

As frustrating as it is, we need to believe that there is a community resolution to this problem, and to stop looking for someone to blame.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.