Opinion: Open letter to Ontario mushroom farmers

You are to be applauded for your development of the specialty mushroom industry but the consolidation of your button mushroom industry is all but complete.

The $50 million that used to be shared by more than 300 family operations in the button mushroom industry in Ontario is now consolidated into a few hands. A monopoly largely afforded by a restrictive distribution network but also facilitated by the cheap imported labour.

I would guess that when there were 300 families sharing in $50 million button mushroom industry much of it went to their sons and daughters and high school friends.

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I would say the early mushroom industry was built on jobs for kids. Learning work and responsibility and leadership… and the value of a dollar. It was difficult work, but you could make good money as a high school kid.

Much like tobacco picking and chicken catching… I made enough money chicken catching to be the financial envy of my peers in high school. I made enough money one year picking tobacco to finance a year of university.

These jobs are now filled by workers under the temporary import workers program. In a symbiotic relationship not unlike the one that existed in the cotton industry back in the day.

I realize that if you come from a war-torn country, or a country where $5 is a daily wage… $14 an hour is a dream job. But for an ag graduate it’s a slap in the head.

Cheap temporary workers, and they are cheap, the cheapest allowable under Canadian law, are not the way to grow an economy, especially a rural economy.

The temporary foreign workers program for the most part benefits corporations, the corporations that replaced family farms and old school “agribusiness.”

John Vanderzanden
South Cayuga

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