For generations the agriculture industry in Summerland has provided young people the opportunity of having a first job. A number of local teens have experienced this over the summer, while working for the Stohlers, on their vineyards in Prairie Valley.
When Mike Stohler first drove through the Okanagan in 1996, it left an impression on him.
“I came and went, wow, what is this place,” explained Mike. “It was like a little piece of paradise.”
He and his wife Gillian, who were both employed by Air Canada at the time, started to come back here to camp and visit the different wineries in the area. They soon began wondering how they too, could enjoy living here and that is what led them to the business of growing grapes and producing organic wines.
This year, two of their five children were ready to have a summer job. Some of their friends were also interested in working.
The Stohlers decided they could hire the youths to work for them in the vineyards, so they put the word out that they were looking for teens who were bored at home, who were looking for time away from their screens, who would like to learn new skills, do meaningful work outside in the fresh air and collect a paycheque.
“We were really surprised with the interest level. We’ve had 10 people working in the vineyard,” Mike said. “We thought if we were going to do this, we’d start them off right. They had to put together a resume and come for a little interview and tell us about themselves. There was some nervousness around that, but it was all part of learning life skills.”
The work day was from 8 a.m. until noon. The youths were required to sign in and sign out, be prompt and give notice if they were not able to be at work for some reason.
Every Friday, Mike would take them out for lunch and a pool party was planned for the last Friday of the season.
These young folks learned many new skills over the course of the summer.
“We started them with taping in the two new vineyards. The kids were involved in tying and staking young seedlings that were growing up to a bamboo stick,” Mike explained. They were using special tools and learning how to trim and select one or two shoots per plant and protect them on these stakes. Each youth worked with approximately 1,000 plants in this way.
They also learned how to do hand leafing and hand hedging. These techniques keep the shoots growing vertically and allow the air and light to get through to the lower zone where the grapes are growing on the vine.
The teens were not physically able to do some things at first, like using a hammer to nail trellis clips to poles. Nevertheless, after performing this task thousands of times, many of them were able to perfect their hammering skills.
Getting to know one another was also a benefit of their employment.
“They are not all in the same social groups,” explained Gillian. “It’s good to have them interacting because in life you interact with lots of different people, so it is good to get them talking to one another now.”
“There will be more connections when they go back to school and now when they see each other in the halls, they will know each other,” said Mike.
When interviewed, the young people all agreed that working in the vineyards had been a good experience. They said they had fun and enjoyed working with each other.
Mike said that many of the parents had stopped him to say thank you for providing their teens with the opportunity of a summer job.
Speaking of the youth Mike said, “There’s not enough for them to do and not enough being done for them, so we’ve been happy to work with them. It’s a win-win for everybody.
In the future, more young people will get their first feel of working a real job in the agricultural industry if the Stohlers have their way.
“It worked out really great,” said Mike. “We’ll repeat it again next year.”