Osoyoos council moves to welcome pickers
By ROY WOOD
Thanks to a suggestion from a well-known local pastor, the town of Osoyoos will try to make itself more welcoming to the hundreds of itinerant agriculture workers who travel here every spring and summer.
Town council agreed Monday to grant $2,500 to the Osoyoos Baptist church to pay for one of its regular dinners for the migrant workers.
In an interview today, Pastor Phil Johnson said that he recently met with town official to urge them to be more visibly welcoming to the pickers.
“Usually the only relationship (they have) with the town is with bylaw enforcement, which is rarely positive,” he said.
Johnson pointed out that the workers are vital to the local agricultural industry. Without those workers, he said, “Our agriculture wouldn’t make it. We need to show we appreciate them.”
Johnson suggested the town might throw a barbeque for the workers. But after some discussion, the notion that the town support one of the church dinners became the preferred option.
In a letter to council, Johnson said the church will provide Saturday evening meals for six consecutive weeks starting June 2 or 9, depending on when the workers begin arriving in town. The dinners usually involve between 700 and 800 guests.
He also invited the mayor and council to drop by to help prepare and/or serve the food. Mayor Sue McKortoff and several councillors indicated they would do so.
This will be the ninth year the church has been offering such meals to the pickers, mostly from Quebec, but also from Mexico and Europe.
McKortoff told council: “I do know that in Oliver the town and the community do put on a dinner for them. I believe it’s on St. Jean Baptiste Day. So, it does happen in other communities as well.”
In fact, Oliver chief administrative officer Cathy Cowan said today that town makes no direct financial contributions to efforts toward welcoming seasonal workers.
There is an annual St. Jean Baptiste Day pickers party and dinner at Lions Park in Oliver. It is funding by a $1,500 federal Heritage Grant to the local parks and recreation society. Parks and rec manager Carol Sheridan said today that beyond the federal grant money, the party depends on private donations and volunteers.
As part of the same resolution on Monday, Osoyoos council agreed to contribute $1,000 for “enhanced dry land camping.” That amount has been on the town books for several years since the BC Fruit Growers provided it to provide a camping facility or pickers.
Johnson said the $1,000 will come in very handy. The area west of the church building contains several piles of dirt that need to be levelled and “we paid $1,300 for the port-a-potty last year.”
The church has a four-shower facility that is available to campers during the day, along with toilets.
In a report to council on Monday, chief administrative officer Barry Romanko said: “The church is currently reviewing the opportunity to provide enhanced dry-land camping to seasonal workers on their church site.”
There are a couple of tents in the area already. Johnson said that at the peak last year there were about 120 people tenting behind the church.
The area is zoned for agricultural use, which permits camping for agricultural workers.
In the implications section of his report to council, Romanko noted, “A very small portion of these workers have been known to cause problems in the community: however the number is small in relationship to the numbers that come to the area.”