Connecting with the land, tilling and tending it, is a fundamental human experience, one that transcends borders. In order to harness the potential of this shared practice, the Association for New Canadians (ANC) has started their “Bridge the Divide” program, which pairs job-seeking refugees with local farm employers.
The seed for “Bridge the Divide” was sown when Sarah Thompson, project manager for the ANC, started working with the community organization nearly five years ago.
“I went into classrooms to teach work-related skills. It was at that stage that I realized farming is a huge skill-set that exists amongst our clientele,” says Thompson. “They may have been truck drivers, painters, have all kinds of different careers, but they were also farmers.”
Speaking to farmers across the province also made it abundantly evident to Thompson that there continues to be an issue in attracting and retaining employees. An interest and openness to explore the possibilities through this project was expressed by the farming community.
With assistance from NL’s Workforce Innovation Centre, at the College of the North Atlantic in Corner Brook, and Memorial University researchers, Dr. Mumtaz Cheema and Dr. Raymond Thomas, 13 refugees (3 women and 10 men) participated in the training component of the project. The project team set its sights on large farms in the central and western regions of the province and has been successfully pairing refugees that have farming experience with potential farm employers (5 matches have been made so far, 4 in Eastern NL and 1 in Central).
Like any new project, “Bridge the Divide” has had a number of obstacles to overcome, including transportation, childcare, and low wages. However, despite these complications, Thompson says her clients have expressed receiving immense emotional satisfaction in passing down their agricultural skills to the next generation. Moreover, the project doesn’t limit the refugees to work as mere farm hands.
“With newcomers come all kinds of interesting skillsets, interesting perspectives that open up all kinds of potential wealth in this place.”
Project Manager, The ANC
“This project is like an incubator. The hope and the plan for many is to establish their own farms,” says Thompson, who highlights the tremendous potential of shared knowledge and experience-sharing for both the refugees and the farm operator. “We as people living in the province have to recognize the value that the person brings: with newcomers come all kinds of interesting skillsets, interesting perspectives that open up all kinds of potential wealth in this place.”