Rural mosaics: How a Romanian immigrant is helping an Italian family settle a Nova Scotian farm
Thants to The Weekly Press for permission to reprint this article. It was written by Angele Cano and originally printed in The Weekly Press, Aug 25, 2010
UPPER KENNETCOOK: Amid a flurry of playing children, running dogs, workmen with buzzing circular saws, and floors lined with sawdust, Alessia Pulze and Ciro Comencini are making final preparations before moving in to their first Canadian home in Upper Kennetcook.
On a warm August afternoon, wearing paint-stained blue coveralls and a ball cap, Comencini looks out over his massive expanse of land as Pulze gathers her young children, aged two, five, and six, into the yard. Comencini points promisingly over pasturing hills towards a dip in the valley where a barrier of lush green trees lines the property. In his thick Italian accent, he explains where a special breed of sheep will be sent out to graze when they arrive in September. The family is starting a small business in a nearly untapped market in Nova Scotia.
“The making of sheep milk and cheese, that is my passion,” he said. “I learned all over Italy how to make sheep milk and cheese. But it’s when I am in my barn with the sheep, in the dairy, I am very happy. This is my life.”
The couple and their three children moved to Canada early this year, after receiving landed immigrant status. They have been staying in Sackville, but preparing the home on their 240-acre farm in Upper Kennetcook, which they plan to make into their sheep dairy and shop.
Hants County is an area with few support systems for the newly immigrated and very limited diversity. This is where Viorica Sporea comes in.
Sporea is the regional promotion officer for Hants Regional Development Agency. She looks after everything from tourism to attracting residents to the area, including immigrant families, under the community identified stream of a provincial nomination program.
Comencini and Pulze fit the criteria. They are a young family who will populate the area, and are starting up a business that could be a source of revenue for the Municipality of East Hants. They also have community ties in the area: Comencini visited Canada several times over two years, and his family’s immigration process was fast-tracked by the Department of Agriculture and Aquaculture, which views the couple as investors.
Sporea herself moved here from Romania nine years ago. For two years, she has been working at Hants RDA as regional promotions officer, and providing support for newly landed immigrants. She can relate to many of the challenges they face, especially in rural areas.
“We were a rarity in our neighbourhood,” said Sporea. “Now there are ESL programs, but mainly in HRM (Halifax Regional Municipality). That is a problem. We don’t have support systems in Hants County.”
Sporea noted the lack of multiculturalism, especially in rural areas.
“The problem is in Nova Scotia,” she said. “At the national level, it hasn’t been an attraction for immigrants, so it’s not as multi-cultural. It has improved, but, when I first moved here, I had problems finding work. It was frustrating that I knew what I knew, but as soon as I opened my mouth I was judged. People assumed because I had an accent that I was stupid and uneducated.”
It’s roadblocks like these that involve her in the lives of her clients above and beyond administering papers, getting them familiar with amenities, helping with driver’s licenses, finding doctors, dentists, and banking.
Sporea also acts as a social worker of sorts. The closeness with her clients is apparent when the couple’s daughter, Linda, runs to throw her arms around Sporea’s waist upon arrival at the farm.
“Alessia called me last night when I was making dinner to tell me about her day and that she could get the children into a summer program,” she said. “I couldn’t just tell her, ‘I’m off the clock’. I care about these people. I know what they are going through.”
In a combination of Italian and English, explaining and interpreting back and forth, the young couple, only 28 and 29, sat around a table in their unfinished kitchen and looked after guests among the chaos of renovations. They spoke about hurtles they faced in setting up their own business in Italy. They moved from a town just outside Verona.
“The land it not cheap,” he said. “It is more expensive to be a farmer there, and there is more competition because many farmers produce sheep milk and cheese.”
Comencini is expecting a federal inspector at the farm this week to look over the facility and communicate safety regulations. If the farm is up to code on federal standards, it means his product could be imported across Canada and even the continent. They are also looking to set up a small shop on their property.
Meanwhile, they want their business to flourish in the community. This is where Sporea said more community involvement would be helpful. Hants RDA has created an immigration feedback group made up of members from local businesses, community based individuals, and newly landed immigrants. She calls it a work in progress.
“We’re trying to get people out here to know who the immigrants are, and their challenges,” she said. “Our biggest role is to get these support systems in place for people. We need some involvement from people in the community to get programs like this started.”
Hants RDA itself has limited resources, and would like to be able to employ a body full-time to help newly landed immigrants with settlement and integration into the community. Sporea even spoke about holding community events, like international potlucks. But she said they need the community to be willing.
“We hope to start building that capacity of support in our community,” she said. “We’re just in the incipient stage, but hopefully we will catch up. It’s about educating everyone.”