Acupunking in the Tomato Capital of Canada

This weekend I packed my needles and a sleeping bag and joined a crew of migrant justice activists driving south from Guelph to Leamington Ontario for Leamington’s first-ever migrant workers’ health fair. Leamington, home of the Heinz factory, is the tomato capital of Canada, and has the largest number of commercial greenhouses in all of North America.

About one-third of the population of the town is migrant workers, mostly from Mexico, Jamaica and Thailand. They come to Canada on temporary work permits to work long hours under grueling conditions for low pay. They are exposed to pesticides, sexual harassment, racism. They have very little access to health care of any kind. Getting sick, getting pregnant, or organizing are quick ways to get deported if you’re a migrant worker in Canada. 

I had reservations about doing community acupuncture at the health fair, about arriving for one day, providing care and being unavailable after that. After talking it over with one of the others I decided that some acupuncture was better than no acupuncture – at the very least my needles and I could provide some pain relief and relaxation.

So that’s what I did. And that’s all I did. You know what never, ever gets old? Group acupuncture sessions when more than one person is moved to display that rowdy enthusiasm of someone suddenly free of pain: beaming, fist pumping above their head, full range of motion abruptly restored. Some stuff comes across, language barrier or not.

Between the community qi in the corner and all the other information tables, including a radical (pun intended) herbal collective offering tea, herbal remedies and a zine in Spanish, Thai and English on local medicinal plants, it was a very good, satisfyingly tiring day.

It was on the drive back that the hard stuff hit home, a few images refusing to leave. Somewhere just north of Chatham-Kent, all I could see for a few kilometers were transposed images of severe pesticide burns on the back of someone’s hand, several gigantic flatbeds piled impossibly high with tomatoes in a parking lot by the health fair, and the tallest structure in Leamington: the Heinz factory smokestack.

I don’t mean to sound all dramatic. It’s not as if I had an epiphany about modern agribusiness dealing callous damage to the folks who work the fields and greenhouses or that the blatant racism of the Canadian state is news to me. But violence hits home in a different way when it’s happening to someone you’re giving care to – whether it’s immediately recognizable violence, or the more subtle & congealed ways in which Canadian free trade agreements do incalculable harm.

It’s tough sometimes not to question where I’m directing my energy, hard not to be winded by the apparent futility of wielding these tiny filiform needles, when what my patient needs is yes, pain relief, but also, urgently, the dissolution of international borders, the dismantling of global capitalism.

It does help, in these moments, to return to what I know of harm reduction, to remember that smallness is not futile, that no act of care is wasted effort. And as I found out late Sunday night, it really helps to be in a van with other folks working towards fundamentally different ways of relating. With big & raucous hearts.

Big props to the organizers of the health fair. You're inspiring. And if there's an acupuncturist thinking of setting up shop in one of the sunniest places in Canada, I reckon a community acupuncture clinic with weekend hours would do pretty well in Leamington.

Lisa Baird
Author: Lisa Baird

Lisa prefers fireflies to fireworks, reverts to bluntness in stressful moments, would happily wear legwarmers year-round, and probably wants to be your friend.

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