Opinion: Open letter to Ontario mushroom farmers

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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.

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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