You might want to rethink that tomato

You might want to rethink that tomato r1 ... MAKE A DIFFERENCE BY DEC. 31 The Narwhal's masthead logo We’re coming to you with a special holiday edition of our newsletter today, featuring one of our most ambitious stories of the year: an inside look at the true costs borne by those producing Canada’s fruits and vegetables.
A worker is seen walking through a farm in Leamington, Ont.
When the pandemic first hit, photojournalist Christopher Katsarov Luna’s mind immediately turned to the farming town of Leamington, Ont. He’d spent nearly a decade travelling to the community to document the experiences of the seasonal migrant workers who form the backbone of Canada’s agricultural industry.

Chris was worried the cramped living quarters would only make a bad situation worse. Unfortunately, he was right.

Cramped dorms, with 24 to a room. A COVID-19 outbreak. The misuse of limestone powder — used to stop pests from destroying tomatoes — that burned workers’ eyes, lungs and skin. And that’s just at one Leamington greenhouse.

Interviews with more than 30 migrant workers, a visit to a bunkhouse and analysis of complaint data and inspection reports reveal a system that repeatedly fails to keep workers safe — a circumstance compounded by the global pandemic.

This stunning piece of investigative journalism, by Chris and reporter Hilary Beaumont, was more than a year in the making. We’re grateful we were able to publish it in The Narwhal thanks to the thousands of readers who support us by donating whatever they can afford. Each and every contribution helps ensure we are able to say yes to pitches from journalists like Hilary and Chris. Every dollar you give between now and the end of the year will be matched by a generous donor.
A man watching a religious ceremony from his bed in a bunkhouse.
The glimpse inside the farms is truly rare, and it includes 360 imagery that comes as close as I’ve ever seen to offering a complete picture of the conditions faced by the people growing Canada’s fruits and vegetables.

“Throughout the pandemic, every time I went to the grocery store, I would check the labels on the vegetables to see where they were produced, but it was nearly impossible to know who picked them and what the working conditions were like,” Hilary told me. “Once we were inside the bunkhouse, it felt like I was looking through a portal to the other end of the supply chain.”

So, what’s being done to fix a broken system? Canada just released the findings from a consultation process and is recommending the phase-out of bunk beds and a limit of four workers in any bedroom. If implemented, that would mean accommodations like the ones at the greenhouse Chris and Hilary visited would no longer be allowed.

But without significant changes to the permit process, Chris says, workers will continue to be at risk.

“Ultimately, as long as workers’ visas are fixed to an individual employer contract, workers will be hesitant to report on workplace health and safety violations, human rights violations or organize, for fear of being deported.”

Right now, workers who can prove their employer is abusive are able to receive an open permit for one year before being required to find a new employer to attach to their visa. Ottawa has said it is committed to “improve open work permits,” but how that will play out in practice remains unclear.

“An open labour market,” Chris says, “is probably the singular most impactful change that can be made to ensure migrant workers are represented, heard and seen.”

For more behind-the-scenes details, go here to read my Q&A with Chris and Hilary.

Take care and consider your fruits and veggies,

Arik Ligeti
Director of audience
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

P.S. We have big plans to dive deep into more investigative journalism in 2022, but we need your support to make it happen. If you’re able, please consider making a tax-deductible donation before the end of the year. Remember, every dollar you give before the end of the year will be matched by a generous donor. Give $100 and we get $200, give $250 and we get $500, you get the idea! Illustration of two narwhals crossing tusks, with text: We want to give a special shoutout to Sachia Kron, a dedicated fan of The Narwhal who sent in this gorgeous illustration as a holiday gift. “I deeply appreciate the value and authenticity of your reporting,” Sachia wrote. We hope all of you are getting some rest over the holidays. And for the less artistically talented (*raises hand*), we also accept gifts in the form of one-time donations of any amount.

The Narwhal is hiring

The job postings just keep on coming! Our team is growing once again — and we are looking for two stellar candidates to fill these important roles.

We are Manitoba-bound! The Narwhal is collaborating with the Winnipeg Free Press to bring in-depth and investigative environmental journalism to the province. Find out more about our Manitoba Environment Reporter opportunity.

Calling all audience nerds! We are hiring an Audience Engagement Editor to help think up all the ways we can build and strengthen connections with our growing community of readers and members.

The application deadline for both gigs is Jan. 13. Be sure to spread the word over the holidays.

The Narwhal in visual journalism

A bird's-eye-view of caribou in the trees
“Since time immemorial the Kaska Dena has relied on caribou for sustenance. Our Elders say the Finlayson herd is disappearing.”

Recently, we published a photo essay by Kaska photographer Robby Dick, who set out to capture a way of life that's under threat as an open-pit mine is proposed in southern Yukon.

Robby’s story is the final of three pieces from The Narwhal’s first photo fellowship program, run in partnership with the fine folks at Room Up Front, a mentorship program for photojournalists who are Black, Indigenous and people of colour.

This program wouldn’t have been possible without support from our readers and the Reader’s Digest Foundation.

We hope you can spend time soaking up these stories, including Ramona Leitao’s look at the efforts of Black farmers in southern Ontario to address food insecurity and Alia Youssef’s profiles of 10 trailblazers challenging ideals of who belongs in the outdoors.

The Narwhal is committed to producing more work by, and about, people from communities that have long been underrepresented in Canada’s news ecosystem.

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When a Coastal GasLink lawyer raised questions about Indigenous identity in court proceedings following arrests on Wet’suwet’en territory, it sparked widespread outrage — and pointed to a larger, complicated conversation about governance and who has the right to enforce Indigenous title on unceded lands.

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READ MORE When you’re ready to kick back and rest after a loooong year. Get some shut-eye and then tell your friends to make signing up for our newsletter their first New Year’s resolution. r63

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