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What are the Implications of COVID-19 on the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program & Food Security Rates?

Date: May 27th, 2021

Back in March 2020, no one could have predicted the breadth and length of COVID-19. When the pandemic first began, grocery stores had a hard time keeping up with the increased demand as people began to panic buy, trying to prepare for the unknown. During this time, grocery store shelves looked bare, and there was worry as to whether Canada’s agricultural sector would be able to meet this new demand. As government officials held their daily press conferences, Canadians were reassured that there was no need to panic buy as “we have plenty of food” available.

The government’s statement may have been reassuring to some, but for those keeping a close eye on the news, and reading stories related to the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) and COVID-19, reassurance was likely not experienced to the same extent, if at all. Many people may not have been aware until this pandemic how reliant we are as Canadians on foreign labour in order to plant and harvest produce. This story has since faded from our daily news roundup, but have you since stopped to think about how COVID-19 impacted Seasonal Agricultural Workers, farmers and their ability to hire an  Seasonal Agricultural Workers, and what this meant for Canada’s food supply?

Our panel will also speak more broadly on food security and how it has been affected by the pandemic, moving beyond the agriculture sector. Over the last thirteen months, one of the largest news stories, rightfully so, is the concern about increased foodbank use and a plea for people to contribute to help meet this new demand. While we acknowledge that food charity is not a sustainable solution to food insecurity, it does inform us that food insecurity is an urgent public health concern and needs increased government attention. During this discussion our panel will discuss the relationship between health and equity when it comes to food access, and provide the audience with insight into how the pandemic has affected food security in Canada, explain what the expected future implications are, and what needs to be done.


Dr. Valerie Tarasuk

Professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto

Valerie Tarasuk is a Professor in the Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto; Val’s primary research focus is food insecurity. Her work in this area has included several studies to elucidate the scope, nature, and health implications of this problem in Canada and examine the effectiveness of community-based responses. Since 2011, she has led PROOF, an interdisciplinary research program launched with funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and designed to identify effective policy approaches to reduce household food insecurity in Canada.

Alex Chesney

Registered Dietitian and farmer at Thames River Melons

Alex Chesney is a Registered Dietitian and farmer, living and working on her family’s fruit and vegetable farm. Alex is passionate about educating the community on the local food system by entwining how food is grown and harvested with how it can be prepared and how it can nourish us. She oversees the farm’s on-farm market and pick-your-own patch, spaces where visitors can experience local agriculture firsthand. She is also hard at work planning the addition of an on-farm kitchen and interactive workshops and experiences that will bring farm-to-table to life.

Jade Guthrie

Educator and Food Justice Advocate with FoodShare Toronto, Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW), & Toronto Youth Food Policy Council

Jade Guthrie is an educator and food justice advocate, passionate about her work engaging communities through food. In her work at FoodShare Toronto, jade develops and facilitates hands-on workshops with folks, cooking and eating together while opening up conversations about the food system. Outside of her 9-5, she sits on the Toronto Youth Food Policy Council, and is a member of Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW), a volunteer-run political collective which strives to promote the rights of migrant farm workers.

Chris Ramsaroop

Organizer with Justicia for Migrant Workers & Instructor at the University of Toronto and the University of Windsor

Chris Ramsaroop is an organizer with Justicia for Migrant Workers. He is also an instructor in the Caribbean Studies Program at the University of Toronto and a clinic instructor at the University of Windsor, Faculty of Law. Ramsaroop is working to complete his PhD at OISE/University of Toronto. Justicia for Migrant Workers is a grassroots activist collective that has been organizing with migrant workers for nearly 20 years. Justicia’s work is based on building long term trust and relationships with migrant workers and includes: engaging in direct actions, working with workers to resist at work, launching precedent setting legal cases, and organizing numerous collective actions.


Evita Basilio

Registered Dietitian at St. Michael’s Hospital and That Clean Life

Evita Basilio is a Registered Dietitian working in acute mental health and serving a diverse population in downtown Toronto. Evita moved to Canada in 2012 to pursue a career in nutrition and has since worked in clinical, health technology, agricultural, and community food security sectors. Evita’s focus is on increasing access to nutritious, sustainable, and culturally appropriate food and continuing the work to increase inclusivity within the field of nutrition.


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