Community volunteers are still keeping the produce growing at Emma’s Acres, as the farm patiently awaits day passes to be granted to prisoners.
The Long-term Inmates Now in the Community (LINC) Society program allows convicts at Mission Institution to spend their days working the eight-acre farm under a contract with Correctional Service Canada (CSC).
“The community have been troopers,” said Sherry Edmunds-Flett, the farm’s co-founder. “But (a shortage) will happen if we don’t get volunteers.”
The farm is still down the 10 to 15 hands they normally have since a COVID lockdown was put in place following a severe outbreak at the prison during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since then, volunteers have stepped up to keep operations going, particularly a group of seniors staff have the dubbed the “mighty ladies.”
Edmunds-Flett said she’s had little word on when CSC will return to the “new normal,” only that visitations may open up soon, and vaccinations rates among inmates are increasing.
She said she hopes Emma’s Acres will be one of the first programs to resume because of the ability to social distance on a farm, but that she doesn’t expect anything until at least the Fall.
“As a contractor, I can’t even go into the prison … Nobody is allowed in and nobody is allowed out,” she said, adding Fall is still an entire season away. “We’re starting to feel it now.”
And the growing season will be difficult, Edmunds-Flett said, as they’ve lost some of the additional COVID funding received last year, labour from City of Mission lifeguards, and are still only getting half the contract work normally billed to CSC.
Last year, they were able to substitute their COVID losses, but this season could be different, she said, as a labour shortage is currently their biggest challenge.
“There are some things that the ladies can’t do, like I need someone to rototill the medicine garden and we have a lot of weeding because we have additional rows,” Edmunds-Flett said.
“Now that the pools are open, we don’t have lifeguards.”
Still, she said the non-profit is feeling COVID pains less than other organizations, as their funding sources are fairly diversified.
They still provide free bread on Monday nights, they still run their food-coupon program for seniors and families, and they even gave away free produce for Indigenous peoples after the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at Kamloops Residential School.