By Nicole Georges
Kenneth E. Forth was endowed with a degree of Doctors of Laws Honoris Causa by the University of Guelph for his notable contribution and advocacy to the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program. Forth’s work has had a profound impact on the Canadian Food and vegetable industry, as well as on the lives of thousands of families across Mexico and the Caribbean.
Forth, who hails from six generations of Jamaican farmers, was recognized as a long term advocate for the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program that provides labour critical to sustaining Canada’s vital agriculture industry. His work with industry organizations in ensuring fair trade policies for Canadian farmers, helped to develop labour legislations and regulations as well as policy and farm support programs. Forth has led or directed several key industry associations including the Foreign Agricultural Research Management Services, the Canadian Horticultural Council, the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association. His transformational leadership has already earned him the Governor General’s Medal, as well as the Jamaica Badge of Honour.
Forth, in his convocation address, said he was honoured to be recognized by the University, and thanked Associate Dean Academic for the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics, Dr. Sarah Mann, for nominating him for the Award. He said his interest in agricultural research began in a 10th grade economics class, when a teacher tried to explain how farms worked and what farmers did, “To say he was wrong, would be an understatement, so I went back and talked to my grandfather and father, and got facts and figures, and came back to class a few days later with the truth about farmers and agriculture.” Forth added that his life’s work could be summed up in one sentence, “I simply told the story of agriculture and farming; that’s what I, and us, have been doing for fifty years.”
He credited the various agricultural associations and colleagues he has worked with over the years, for the impact and changes made to policies regarding farms and farmers.
Forth gave an overview of the history of Ontario farming, as relates to fruit and vegetable crops from the early 1900s, and its heavy reliance on crucial immigrant labour. In the 1966, farm labourers from Jamaica were brought in signalling the start of seasonal workers programs. Forth noted that today there are 20 000 seasonal workers in Ontario, and 35 000 nationwide, and stressed the vital nature of this labour, “Without the Seasonal Workers Program, not much fruit, vegetables, green house or nursery would be produced in here in Canada. It would all be imported.” Forth also pointed out that the participants reap economic benefits from their labour, and are able to raise their standard of living in their home countries, as well as educate their children, due to their involvement in the Program. Forth dedicated his newly conferred Doctor of Laws Degree to his family.