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New resource centre in Simcoe helps temporary foreign workers, employers

Magazine, podcast will take a look On the Farm 


Leanne Arnal Bennett’s organization, Norfolk Community in Action, has partnered with Catholic Community Services of York Region to open a centre in Simcoe to offer a wide variety of supports to temporary foreign workers and their employers alike.

Almost two decades ago, Leanne Arnal Bennett had a business centred around selling clothes to temporary foreign workers in Norfolk, who would then ship the items home for their loved ones.


In some cases, she sourced clothing for people’s children from when they were babies until they were entering their teens. “People started to become like family to me,” Arnal Bennett said.


Being in such close proximity to her customers, she saw some of the challenges they faced in their role as temporary foreign workers.“There were some farms that really didn’t treat their workers well … and it just didn’t feel good to see people being treated in such a way. So, for a couple of years, I was very strongly advocating (for the workers),” she said.


Arnal Bennett said her approach became focused on “positive, solution-based mediation between farmers and workers,” because that’s what brought about the best results for everyone.


Through that, she also learned a lot about where the farmers were coming from.

“I really started to transition away from assuming that the farming industry was negative, and realizing what a positive impact it has on people’s lives and how important it is to our community. And knowing that, we need to celebrate the amazing farmers in our community as much as we need to celebrate the hard work that goes into the labor force,” Arnal Bennett said.


“Now, it’s easy to see what the challenges are from a farmer’s perspective and also be able to support the worker. It’s a really important relationship, I think, because there cannot be any solutions without there being conversation between two parties.”


Finding solutions to problems also requires gathering good sources of information.


Over the years, Arnal Bennett has been hired multiple times by employers to help liaise with their workers, and through that, she’s made a lot of connections with service organizations and professionals who support temporary foreign workers, people seeking permanent resident status and people who have immigrated to Canada with needs such as legal advice, developing language skills, support in finding housing and building community connections, etc.


For some workers, their needs are great, but the resources available are few.

“There seems to be a gap for services, where it’s like, if you don’t have permanent resident status, then you fall into a non-existing kind of state,” Arnal Bennett said.


This is frustrating for many workers and the people trying to support them, like Arnal Bennett, because “If you’re a temporary worker, you spend more time here than you do in your own country,” she said, noting that workers are generally contracted for at least eight months and come back every year, and some workers will even get one or two year contracts.


“They contribute to our economy on such a massive level,” Arnal Bennett said. “They pay taxes. They’re working here and so they should have access to the same kinds of services.”

When the workers need supports, they often have to turn to not-for-profits and people like Arnal Bennett for help.


She recently secured a connection that will do a lot to help the workers in Norfolk County –with Catholic Community Services of York Region (CCSYR).

“They’re probably one of the biggest immigration settlement centers and welcome centers in Canada,” she said.


With financial support from CCSYR, Arnal Bennett’s organization, Norfolk Community in Action, now has an office in Simcoe. The centre is an information connection point for workers and their employers alike, offering supports such as language classes, seminars, information resources on a wide variety of topics (including mental health, workplace safety, the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP), etc.).


“Pretty much anything in all things immigration-related,” Arnal Bennett said.


Workers can also come to the centre to get connected with experts if they need more specialized support. These have been vetted to ensure – as much as is possible – that they’re a legitimate information source or service provider. “I’m not a consultant and I’m not a lawyer, but I like to make sure that (the workers) go into the right hands,” Arnal Bennett said.


The centre is also a resource to help people with things like finding housing and enrolling their kids in school once they become permanent residents. Arnal Bennett has even helped some people fit in socially. “There’s a lot of faith-based people from the Caribbean, and so they’re looking for a church … Some people are just looking for friendships too, just to make connections,” she said.


Besides workers coming to the centre to get information, the information will also go out to them directly from the centre, with the launch of a magazine and podcast, both called On the Farm.


The magazine will come out twice a year, in spring and at harvest, so the workers can get a copy as they start on the farm, and take one home with them. “Ultimately, the magazine is going to be geared to the workers; the men and women who come here and work on the field,” Arnal Bennett said.


It will include information articles from local experts (for instance, the first edition will include a piece from the OPP focused on road safety for bicycles and pedestrians), as well as a regular ‘Bunkstyles of the Rich and Famous’ feature, which will have tips and tricks for community living.


“It’ll be a resource piece for them, but we’re also going to feature farm workers,” Arnal Bennett said. “There’s so much talent on our fields. Like, we have people who are singers and dancers and DJs and artists … It’s a great place to feature veteran workers, who have been coming here for years.”


She explained that the features will have the workers sharing a bit of their experiences in their respective work programs, and celebrating how it’s benefitted them. The workers may also be able to offer some advice for other farm workers who are new.


The podcast will start in March, and will run every other week. It, too, will be a place for workers to find information and inspiration.


Both the magazine and the podcast will be presented in English and Spanish.

Arnal Bennett hopes that as time goes on, the centre will not only prove to be a valuable resource for workers and their employers, but that it will have a greater impact beyond.


“We live in the garden of Ontario, and I believe we have a responsibility to set certain standards, and really set that bar for how we treat our farm workers and how we respect our farmers,” she said. “The workers need a voice, and sometimes farmers need support.”


For more information about the magazine or the centre, email Arnal Bennett at

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