Farm housing draws a crowd

65 people pack Lavington Fire Hall, many to protest temporary farm worker housing

Jennifer Smith/Morning Star                                 Roxanne Ronan speaks on behalf of Warren Road residents to demand a change to Coldstream’s farm worker housing bylaw to restrict the number of people allowed.

Jennifer Smith/Morning Star Roxanne Ronan speaks on behalf of Warren Road residents to demand a change to Coldstream’s farm worker housing bylaw to restrict the number of people allowed.

The mix of farm and residential in Coldstream is harvesting upset once again.

Approximately 65 people packed the Lavington Fire Hall Monday night, many to protest temporary farm worker housing in the area.

Coral Beach Farms had originally sought a building permit variance to accommodate 150 workers at the Warren Road cherry orchard site.

Roxanne Ronan, speaking on behalf of the Warren Road residents, urged Coldstream council to limit the number of workers allowed on site.

“The district of Coldstream has no such bylaw,” said Ronan, recommending a cap of 22.

“The camp would isolate workers already vulnerable due to language barriers and present security concerns to adjacent residences.”

Coldstream agreed to have staff bring forward a bylaw limiting the number of workers to 40 per parcel, which is in line with Ministry of Agriculture guidelines for temporary farm worker housing. But any changes that come forward will not impact applications that have already been submitted.

What the Lavington crowd also learned Monday night, is that since that original variance was turned down by Coldstream, Coral Beach has made a new building permit application – for its Buchanan Road orchard.

“We need farm workers,” said Coral Beach’s Gayle Krahn, also a Lavington resident, whose sentiments were echoed by a few other farmers in the crowd.

B.C. Fruit Growers Association manager Glen Lucas defended the need for workers and the benefit it has provided to the farming industry.

“Agricultural has been revitalized by successive waves of immigration,” said Lucas, adding that some some of the poorest countries such as Mexico benefit from the ability to come to Canada to work.

In Coral Beach’s case, Krahn says approximately 60 of the workers are here for the picking season only while another 88 are on site for three months or longer. While some are foreign, a number are university students.

Although the location has changed, the concerns remain the same for residents of the area.

With the influx of people in the area, neighbour Todd Hayes is worried about the safety of his children.

“Who will keep them safe from 150 transients with no ties to this community and no ties to this country?” he asked council.

Krahn reminded residents: “Don’t look at them as transients, look at them as human beings.”

Meanwhile Coldstream wants to look at the issue.

“We’re in a place where agriculture is changing and it’s going to continue to change,” said Coun. Doug Dirk. “They’re not the family farm that they used to be, This is just the beginning, we’re going to see more of this.”

Mayor Jim Garlick suggests a regional approach is needed on the matter.

“Probably what we need to do is sit down and look at the entire valley,” said Garlick.