In 2009, a group of concerned citizens got together to answer this question. At the time it seemed the answer was obvious, yes create a campground for the farm workers and the issue of where to stay before, in between and after a job would be solved. Little did we know there were other issues at hand that didn’t show themselves until the middle of the second year of the established campground near Keremeos.
A few things come to mind when thinking back of the situation. First off, the campground could not be leased from Crown land because of being on a flood plain and no potable water available to the campers. Secondly, because there was no lease or water there was a lack of authority at this camp to weed out the non-workers. Some amenities (but essential ones) were available, such as toilets, garbage pick up, fire barrels, picnic tables, even a free store for recyclable tents, pots and dishes as well as a sign with information and a bulletin board to post events in the community and/or communicate with one another. Thirdly, the lack of essential amenities (laundry and showers) within the Keremeos sector added to the frustration with both farm workers and local citizens as well.
The campground seemed enough at the time since most of the new arrivals in the past had no where but Pine Park to go only to be asked to leave. It only took two seasons to realize that a campground was only enabling some farmers to not equip their farms with basic essentials. This temporary facility was a short term solution to a long time issue within the agricultural community. It seems the situation has become more severe as we hear about the mistreatment of the Mexican workers as well.
At this point I feel a campground really isn’t the answer. It harbors undesirables which are difficult to discern between the workers and non-workers.
There are two scenarios which we can choose from or incorporate. First, have the proper government sector take this issue and monitor and enforce basic amenities on the farm so farmworkers have basic hygiene on the farm. Along with this have some sort of centrally located building to provide laundry and shower facilities for the farm workers. When these two essentials are met the workers will feel that their needs are met and the community will not be complaining that they are using the pool for their showers which to some was not acceptable. Providing coin operated showers at the Keremeos Recreation Center would be a plus.
Running a campground as I did on the small budget ($6,000) was insurmountable. I was grateful for what was donated to the cause, however it fell very short of the real cost. If it weren’t for the volunteers, myself included, it would never have been able to run as it did. Moving the site is not the answer either, as the same problems of non-farm workers infiltrating will continue if not monitored.
If you look at Naramata’s solution it didn’t require a campground – it required a small budget ($5,000) to pay someone to be a liaison between the farmworkers and community. It works because the town has the essential amenities which the farmworkers have use of, plus the farmers pick up the slack where they can while providing communal kitchens and toilet facilities. This places the onus on the farmer, industry and the municipality.
We all have to work together on this. There is no one person or group that has to carry the whole load – divide it up into sectors. We all enjoy living in this beautiful valley and it is the agricultural community who provide all this green space, but it comes with a price. The farmer and the rancher work hard to earn a living on the land and it is not an easy task.
We all need to compromise to keep this a pristine valley. Working together is more helpful than working against one another. Let us put our heads together and come up with something that we all can live with in peace/harmony.
Contributed by Doe Gregoire, Chair, Similkameen Farmworkers Campground Society