The Hardest Harvest Documentary
The Hardest Harvest documentary shares the details of what happened at our farm this summer, but it also gives our Guest Workers a platform to talk about their experiences with and perspectives on the Guest Worker program.
Our Founder and President Peter Quiring and our Vice President John Ketler dive deeper into the documentary and discuss Covid-19, Guest Workers, and our food system in this Q&A.
Documentary Q&A with Peter Quiring & John Ketler
1. Describe some of the challenges we faced this summer.
John: COVID-19 has presented the entire agriculture industry with unprecedented challenges. As farms, we have an important duty: to continue operating as an essential service and keep our crops growing strong while putting strict health and safety procedures in place to keep our teams safe. This is an ongoing challenge for all farms–but we know we need to keep both our workforce and the food supply secure if we’re going to pull through this pandemic together.
Our biggest challenge from COVID-19 came at the end of June when we decided to perform a mass COVID-19 testing at our operation. It was our hope that others in our industry would see the importance of performing testing at farms and follow our lead.
Although we had done everything in our power to prevent COVID-19 from spreading within our workforce by closely following (and often exceeding) regional health regulations and policies, we still had over 180 of these tests come back positive (with the vast majority of them being classified as positive asymptomatic cases). As a result, roughly 400 Guest Workers at our operations were required by local health authorities to quarantine. With such a huge percentage of our workforce in quarantine, our operation shut down completely for 3 days.
On July 15th, we were overjoyed to welcome a healthy and eager team back to work, but there is no doubt that this shutdown had a significant impact on our people and our plants.
2. How did these challenges impact our team and our operations?
John: Hundreds of our team members – our family members – were isolated in quarantine, many people from the community believed we were treating our people poorly, and millions of plants had no one to care for them for days. There’s no glossing over it–it was a really difficult situation.
But you never know how strong you are until it’s your only option.
While hundreds of our Guest Workers were in quarantine, we visited as often as we could to deliver meals and goodie bags. In group chats we shared messages of encouragement and support to help ease feelings of isolation or disappointment. And when everyone was cleared to return to work, our Guest Workers were met with applause, cheers, and welcoming messages from our local team.
The value we place on all our team members is immense–without them, we can’t do what we do. Period. Our Guest Workers are no exception, and while we show them our appreciation whenever we can, we know that more can always be done to give these incredibly hardworking people even greater praise, acknowledgement, and support.
We also can’t discuss this experience without touching on how our crops were affected. The vitality, quality, and productivity of roughly 165 acres of our crops in Ontario was severely affected by our inability to tend to the plants properly for multiple days. Not only did we have to throw away thousands of pounds of fresh produce, we also had to tear out 50 acres of our crops because they could not be salvaged. While we have since replanted, the losses we experienced from these failed crops cannot be ignored.
3. Why did we decide to create this documentary?
Peter: Transparency is one of our company’s key pillars. Whether we’re talking about how we grow our Tomatoes, or how we treat our team, we’ve always been an open book. It is our hope that this documentary will help us continue to be fully transparent about who we are and what we stand for, as well as help us share the details of what happened at our farm this summer. This will be a pivotal chapter in our company’s story, and it deserves to be told in full.
4. What is the documentary’s central message?
Peter: We’ve always had deep respect for our Guest Workers. The jobs they perform on our farms are essential, and the reasons behind why they choose to become Guest Workers are honorable. Many of our Guest Workers choose to come to farms in Canada or the United States so they can find a safe and financially secure job that lets them support their families and improve their quality of life. We have proudly employed some of the same Guest Workers year after year for almost 20 years, and we will do everything we can to continue supporting their ambitions as providers for their loved ones back in their home countries.
This documentary will shine a light on how we have always supported the health, well-being, and ambitions of every Nature Fresh Farms team member, including our Guest Workers. We treat every member of our team like a member of our family, so as our family members, our Guest Workers are given as much care, respect, and support as any other member of our team. The value we place on our Guest Workers is unquestionable.
It’s also important that people understand just how many lives are affected when a farm is unable to operate. A farm shutting down – even just for a few days–means hundreds (if not thousands) of employees have lost their income, and the quality and availability of the product they’re growing or producing is lost. It doesn’t just affect the business—it affects the everyday consumer looking to put food on the table for their family.
5. Who do you want to see this documentary, and why?
John: People are going to get a lot out of this documentary, no matter how familiar they are with agriculture.
For those people with a stronger tie to the farming sector, the documentary will be a resource they can put their support behind and share with their circles. But even if you’re familiar with Guest Workers and how valuable they are to our food system, it’s not often that you get to hear from them directly about their experiences and dreams, or their perspectives on the program they’re an integral part of. Their voices deserve to be heard.
There are also many people within our communities who want assurance that their food is grown safely and that the farm workers who produce it are treated well. It’s our hope that this documentary clears up any misconceptions people may have had about our company, and that no one questions if we truly value, support, and care for our team.
6. After watching this documentary, what do you hope are people’s biggest takeaways?
John: Our hope is that the people who watch this documentary see that the Guest Workers we employ at Nature Fresh Farms are hardworking, honest people with a desire to live a better life in their home countries. And as their employer, we will always support their ambitions to provide greater financial security for their families. Our Guest Workers make some big personal sacrifices to come work here and be away from their families for months at a time, so making Nature Fresh Farms feel as much like a home away from home is critical.
Overall, we want to feed people healthy food, to support our workers’ health and well-being, and to grow a kinder future. That’s what we’re all about. But we also need to acknowledge that, like so many other businesses have had to do during this pandemic, we’ve had to re-evaluate our operations to ensure we remain adaptable, proactive, and compassionate.
7. Why does the conversation need to continue?
Peter: We know as well as anyone that there’s always a better way to do things. It’s up to the leaders in our industry to hold each other accountable and work together so we can set the bar higher for Guest Worker treatment across the sector. Where change needs to happen, open and constructive dialogue needs to take place with every stakeholder involved.
Ensuring that the farm workers who produce our food stay healthy, secure, and safe translates to health, security, and safety within our communities as a whole!
If you have further questions for us, we would be glad to connect with you and keep the conversation going. Please reach out to our Media Contact with all queries.