A migrant fruit picker in a Creston Valley orchard.

A migrant fruit picker in a Creston Valley orchard.

Group seeking space for migrant worker camps in Creston Valley

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Three women have been working closely with Regional District of Central Kootenay Area B director Tanya Wall to address the camping needs of the 150-200 summer workers who do not have space in the existing campgrounds.

After two years of surveys and talking to migrant workers about their needs, Deb Nelius, Barb Wloka and Laurie Boehmer have formed a coalition to brainstorm viable solutions to fill this gap and address the migrant worker “problem”.

“This is a job creation opportunity,” said Nelius, a director of the Canyon Community Association and former cherry orchardist. “There is also an opportunity for land owners to make some money renting out a piece of private land to be a temporary managed campground for two months in the summer. We will compensate landowners for all costs, including the increased cost of adding an insurance rider to their land policy.”

The workers are willing to pay to stay in a campground with services, water and a safe place to leave their things, Nelius said. These campgrounds will have portable showers, toilets and a covered common space for workers, as well as a curfew to ensure those who are not paying tenants have left the premises.

“We would like to see Creston be an example for other agricultural communities in the province,” Nelius said.

With warm weather already driving residents to local water sources, the plan to create temporary living spaces for migrant workers has been welcomed by the Trails for Creston Valley Society. The group is working toward creating recreation areas around the valley, with at least one having been closed to visitors because of migrant worker activity.

“Each of us personally has been affected through loss of access to beautiful places such as the Point simply because there was no government or community support to deal with the neighboring landowners’ complaints,” said president Mary Jayne Blackmore. “We continue to be excluded year round from a public place, when the ‘problem’ being addressed only exists six weeks out of the year. Because of the fear of potential repeats of this situation, we are denying our valley the opportunity to expand our access to water and nature, and are making it increasingly difficult for farmers to find the workers they need to fill a vital link in the valley’s economy.”

As a youth, Blackmore enjoyed working in local packing sheds alongside migrant workers from all walks of life: university students, young families, adventurers, and people who follow the harvests as a career.

“I was proud when many said Creston was the most welcoming of the places they had travelled and worked,” she said. “Only later, I have recognized the lack of communication and support between both the host community and the migrant community and how this has built a context of fear, distrust and resentment.”

With worker camps in place, Blackmore hopes some of the hard feelings will disappear.

“If we can address the basic needs such as sanitation, garbage removal and a safe designated place to camp for the migrant workers, we have a real opportunity as a host community to enjoy just another dynamic that makes Creston a unique and interesting place to live,” she said.

For more information on the temporary migrant worker camps, please contact Deb Nelius at 250-428-9932.

—TRAILS FOR CRESTON VALLEY SOCIETY