ALAMEDA - Anita Warriner has been working for the International Rural Exchange Canada (IREC) program since 2009, when she began as a part-time employee.
Warriner is married to Foster Warriner, and she moved to Canada 35 years ago from California, where she was born and raised and received her bachelor’s degree in history at University California Los Angeles.
She joined her husband on the farm and raised her four children, Jennifer, who works for the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure; Spencer, works in sales at IT; McKenzie, who is an opera singer; and Mariah, who is finishing her degree in communications from Concordia University.
When the Warriners' children were small, they realized they needed help on the farm with the harvest and looked into the IREC program.
In 1985, a group of farmers organized a similar program to International Agriculture Exchange Association (IAEA) and was based in southwest Manitoba.
The farming couple welcomed their first overseas trainee in 2003, and 20 years later they have continued to have help from afar and have stayed in contact with each one of them.
The farm, which became organic in 1999, could not have succeeded without the help they received, and they feel their lives have been enriched with the relationships that have developed.
IREC became incorporated as a non-profit organization in 2013 and now employs eight full-time people, several part-time and seasonal people and has its head office in Alameda.
The inbound program allows for potential host employers to apply and are screened by the inbound staff. Once accepted, they are sent profiles from potential trainees.
These trainees are mostly from Switzerland, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands, but can come from Western European countries, New Zealand and Japan.
Trainees are given the experience in Canada, mainly in farming, which helps the farming communities who struggle at times to find seasonal help.
It is not your average relationship. The employer is responsible to find them housing, a vehicle, help them learn English, help them to adapt to the Canadian culture and provide a welcoming environment.
Approximately 200 agricultural placements were done in 2023, with 40 of them being placed in the southeast. The bulk of the trainees are placed in the Prairies.
There is also an outbound program, were Canadians aged 18-35 can go overseas and also experience other cultures.
The Farmstay program brings people to Canada to learn about life here as a farmer. The program is three months and is not a work program, but they are here to learn.
Sara East, her husband Derek East and his brother David East own and operate East Brother Farms with farmland between Alameda and Carlyle.
East’s sister worked for the IREC, and she suggested the program to the East brothers, as their help for the year was unavailable this year.
Jeremias Hegi and his friend Jonas came to Canada from Switzerland. Hegi was a skilled combine driver and concrete worker by trade.
The largest field he worked on in Switzerland was 13 acres. His eyes opened wide when he had 5,500 acres to harvest on the East Farms.
East was very happy with the arrangement and felt it was great to learn about their culture and lifestyle.
They were not afraid to work and tackled everything they were asked to do. They also joined in on town outings and family events.
Warriner said the application can be done by the individual, but the IREC offers support, does a great deal of the paperwork and takes care of the details, while following up with everyone involved.
East feels it is a very worthy program and one that their family plans to use again.