Farmers in Ontario’s vegetable- and fruit-rich Simcoe area took to the streets on Tuesday, in a show of solidarity and protest of the health region’s Section 22 order.

Organized by local asparagus farmer Frank Schonberger, the protest was to bring awareness to the plight of farmers in the area who are struggling to meet the health region’s COVID-19 safety requirements.

One farmer estimates as many as 200 tractors took part in the protest through Simcoe.

A group calling itself Farmers of Ontario’s Garden said in a statement released Sunday: “Our hands have been tied by our local Haldimand-Norfolk board of health Section 22 order as it pertains to the three-man-per-bunkhouse quarantine regulations and the new federal government switch (COVID) testing procedures.”

The group says the health authority’s order goes above and beyond what the federal government has outlined, and that the three-man rule applies regardless of the size of the bunkhouse. What’s more, farmers say the recent federal announcement that temporary foreign workers must travel alone to farms to quarantine has added more stress and more cost to coordinate bringing workers home.

On a Facebook post, Cathie Tokaji-Schonberger posted: “At this time, the farmers of Haldimand and Norfolk are in crisis. The added restriction put upon transportation of our temporary foreign workers in our health district alone has rendered the implementation of quarantining our temporary foreign workers too difficult to achieve for the majority of Norfolk County Farmers. The federal government’s requirement that all workers must be tested on day ten of their quarantine through Switch Health just adds to the difficulty in quarantining workers. This is not about money. It is about time spent complying with over-the-top rules and programs such as offered by Switch Health, which just do not work, at a time when we need to be attending to the details that go into producing safe food for Canadians. Farmers are so preoccupied with attempting to ensure compliance with programs coming at us from all sides.”

The group is calling on all levels of government to help keep “Ontario’s garden” farmers viable as they enter a second growing season under COVID-19 restrictions.

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