Shari Tompe braces for a $20

Job action squashes South Surrey pumpkin business

Owners of a South Surrey pumpkin patch are feeling the hit of teacher job action, citing a 50 per cent drop in field trip bookings.

Surveying the estimated 40,000 pumpkins that fill two fields on her family’s 20-acre South Surrey farm, Shari Tompe drinks in the abundance that’s grown with the help of July’s largely soggy weather.

“This is by far our best crop ever,” she says. “It’s a shame…”

Every October, Tompe and her husband, Chris, welcome thousands of people – most of them young students on school field trips – to their Hazelmere Pumpkin Patch on 20 Avenue.

This year has been no different from the past 10 in terms of preparing for the 31 days that start this Saturday. But Tompe said teacher job action that greeted students as they returned to school could translate into a disastrous month of business for her family.

As part of strike action, teachers across B.C. are boycotting administrative duties, including writing report cards, collecting fees and sending home field-trip permission slips.

Tompe said in past years, she has booked about 400 children per day for the October visits, in which students participate in a wagon ride, navigate a corn maze and take home a pumpkin.

This year, she said she’s lucky if she books 50 students a day. And, she’s fielding cancellations.

Those who are backing out are citing the strike, Tompe said.

“People who have booked and are now cancelling say it is the job action. They’re not allowed to physically take money from parents or give permission slips out.”

According to the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, the job action has not been designed to prevent field trips, and all of the teacher functions that have been withdrawn have been approved by the Labour Relations Board.

However, Surrey school district spokesman Doug Strachan confirmed field trips are among casualties. While there has been no decision at the district level prohibiting them, whether they go ahead depends largely on whether teachers choose to get involved and to what degree, he said.

Principals and vice-principals are already taking on the majority of administrative work usually done by teachers, he added. Tacking on field trips is “really difficult to ask” of them, he said.

Strachan noted the issue of facilitating field trips is one that district officials have specifically asked to meet with union representatives about.

BCTF president Susan Lambert told Peace Arch News Wednesday the point of the job action is to put pressure on administrators.

“Field trips are absolutely fine,” Lambert said. “It’s unfortunate that they’re not going on.”

Lambert said those feeling the pressure should be taking it “up the line and onto Minister (George) Abbott and to Treasury Board to come to a deal on this collective agreement.”

Strachan said he was not surprised impact of the job action has reached beyond the classroom.

“The longer it goes, the more it’s likely to have that effect,” he said.

Tompe estimates the hit to her business could be about $20,000. With just days to go before the pumpkin patch opens to the public, student numbers are at about 2,000 – a decrease of 50 per cent.

“Overall, it’s a quarter of our (farming) business… which is a big hit,” Tompe said. “It’s looking like it could be one of those really devastating years.”

She’s keeping her fingers crossed that weekend weather will co-operate throughout the month, so as not to compound the problem. When it rains, members of the public typically shy away from the pumpkin patch – business they can’t afford to lose.



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