Niagara concert to welcome offshore farm workers — this Sunday, May 4th

From Penny Coles, in the Niagara Advance:

Performing at last year’s welcome at Orchard Park Church are Julie Hof from Meyers Farm, Jane Andres, Delroy Myrie and Courtney Mitchell, also from Meyers, and Earl Newell from Epp Farms. Photo by Joel Hannigan

“The Niagara-on-the-Lake agricultural community is coming together Sunday, for the eighth annual Farm Workers Welcome Concert.

It is a night of music and celebration, organized to welcome the Caribbean workers who come to Niagara, and to show appreciation for their contribution to the area’s rich agricultural heritage, says organizer Jane Andres.

Andres grew up in Niagara, and for the past 15 years has been running a bed and breakfast on Four Mile Creek Rd., surrounded by neighbouring orchards and vineyards.

It was almost a decade ago that she was invited to lead the music at a local church service for Caribbean workers. A musician herself, with many friends and family who share her love of music, she was delighted to help, and began to search for a guitarist to work with her.

She was surprised to learn that there were almost 100 farm workers living within a 10-minute walk of her house, and soon found Winston Green, a guitarist who lived close by.

He quickly became a family friend, says Andres, and the following year he invited them to come visit his family in Jamaica.

In February 2007 Andres traveled to Jamaica with her daughter Kate and Josh Toal, from the band Newworldson. It was the experiences shared during those 10 days that inspired them to create an event to welcome the farm workers back in the spring, she said, with Teal rallying his band members to take part.

But Andres has done more than establish a popular spring tradition—her goal was also to open the eyes of the community to the workers who come each year to help local growers. And since then, there have been other events organized, with the help of the Caribbean Workers Outreach Program, to help the farm workers adjust and feel part of the community.

“We’re celebrating the feeling of family and celebrating unique relationships,” she said.

“It gives us an opportunity to say welcome and thank you to these hard working men and women who have traditionally been living in the margins of our community,” she says of the annual event.

“Music has the power to transcend cultural barriers. There is something tremendously energizing and inspiring to be in the presence of 600 farm workers, farm owners and locals, celebrating together!

About 75 % of the offshore workers employed in the agricultural industry also have small farms back home….”

More in the Niagara Advance.

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