Van Belle Nursery hopes to build a 70-bed residence for temporary foreign workers.                                City of Abbotsford images

Van Belle Nursery hopes to build a 70-bed residence for temporary foreign workers. City of Abbotsford images

Lower Mainland nursery’s plan to house 70 temporary workers hailed as a ‘template’ for other farms

Council lauds farm’s proposal to build new housing for temporary foreign workers

A large Abbotsford nursery hopes to build a 70-bedroom modular residence to house its temporary farm workers.

Council applauded Van Belle Nursery’s proposal Monday and agreed to forward it to the Agricultural Land Commission, which will get the final say.

Coun. Ross Siemens said the business is an example of how temporary workers should be treated and housed.

“For a number of years we’ve heard of some of the frustrations with how some temporary farm workers have been housed and I think this family has proven again to be leaders in the industry not just in their product but leaders in how they should be treating their temporary farmworkers,” Siemens said. “I think this is a great template and really sets a standard that we should hope others aspire to.

“I think it’s the ethical thing to do, but it also just makes a tremendous amount of sense with how their operations are running.”

Van Belle Nursery grows plants for garden centres and retail nurseries across North America. It employs between 60 to 70 permanent staff, but says it relies upon more than 100 seasonal workers during its peak season. Many of those are temporary workers from outside the country whom the farm is obligated to provide those people with housing.

The proposal presented to council shows a long single-storey building, with 35 individual bedrooms within several inter-connected modules linked by a central hallway. The front of the building would include a kitchen and living area in the front along with a covered deck. Mayor Henry Braun said the mobile nature of the building means it can be removed if it becomes unnecessary.

Eighty-nine temporary farmworkers employed at the Van Belle Nursery are currently housed in buildings at two other growing sites, and in homes rented elsewhere in town. The new building would allow the farm to house 70 workers on its Hallert Road site, instead of renting homes elsewhere.

Braun noted that the new building will also help free up homes elsewhere in Abbotsford, which had a rental vacancy rate of one per cent last year.

In its application to the Agricultural Land Commission, the nursery said it was chosen for a 2016 visit by the Mexican ambassador because it was “an excellent example of how the [Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program] should function.”

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