A 50 year journey

By Lisa McLean and Kelly Daynard

The Heeman family

The Heeman family

London – It’s been a long journey from their homeland in Holland to a successful three-generation family farming business in London for the Heemans.

That journey started more than 50 years ago for Bill and Susan Heeman. Bill said that he was looking for new opportunities. “I was in love. I wanted to get married,” he recalls with a smile. Both Bill and Susan had family that had already moved to Canada so when a recruiter offered to sell them tickets to Canada, they decided that the time was right. Continue reading

Young couple excited by the challenge of farming

By Melanie Epp

Sarah Biancucci and Vince Tkaczuk

Sarah Biancucci and Vince Tkaczuk

Vince Tkaczuk and Sarah Biancucci are the proud new owners of a small, seven-acre farm south of Mount Forest. They bought the property in June of 2013, and in the process moved one step closer to realizing their dream of becoming farmers. The two have big plans for the property they’re now calling Bell’s Edge Farm.

As their slogan, ‘Innovation and Cultivation,’ says, the goal is to farm intensively, but as sustainably as possible. Starting a new farm from nothing comes with its challenges but as the couple’s story shows, determination and drive prevails. Continue reading

Environmental focus key to Beverly Greenhouses

Biological pest controls and heat produced from waste wood chips

By Melanie Epp

Dale (left) and Jan VanderHout in their cucumber greenhouse near Dundas

From the outside, Beverly Greenhouses appears to be a modest operation. It’s not, though. With over 20 acres of greenhouses onsite, it is one of Ontario’s larger greenhouse cucumber operations. Third generation farmers and brothers Dale and Jan VanderHouts’ Dundas-based business is unique for a couple of reasons. First of all, they use tenable practices, like biological pest control and heat production using chips made from wasted wood. Secondly, they use what macroeconomists call a vertical integration strategy, which means they strive to control all levels of the supply chain, from growing to packing. Continue reading

Innovative collaboration drives greenhouse project

By Blair Andrews, Farm & Food Care

Greg Devries, president of Truly Green Farms, displays tomatoes-on-the-vine being grown in the company’s greenhouse in Chatham.

Greg Devries, a farmer from Chatham-Kent, is hoping to use innovation and a unique partnership to redefine the greenhouse vegetable industry. If successful, his efforts could also get people to think about tomatoes in a “greener” way.

Devries is the president of Truly Green Farms, a company that is gradually building a 90-acre greenhouse complex across the road from the GreenField Ethanol plant in Chatham.

In a first for North America, the greenhouse operation will be using carbon dioxide (CO2) and low-grade, waste heat from the ethanol plant to help grow the tomatoes. The concept is to take a greenhouse gas like CO2 that would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere, and use it to produce a healthy food product. Continue reading

Seasonal workers play a critical role on Ontario farms

By Melanie Epp

(from left) Neville Spencer, Greggory Foster, Ken Forth, Donald Deyer and Richard Edwards in a greenhouse full of young broccoli plants.

When Donald Deyer started working on Ken Forth’s vegetable farm in southwestern Ontario, he was just 29 years old. The Jamaican native is now 58 years old, which means he’s spent the better part of his adult life working here, on a part time basis, in Canada. Like many seasonal workers, Deyer arrives on the farm in late spring and remains throughout the growing season. On average, his contract lasts six to seven months each year. He is one of 16 seasonal workers that work on Forth’s farm through the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP), a program that has been in place since 1966. Continue reading

Celebrating Ontario’s flower growers on Valentine’s Day

In honour of Valentine’s Day, we’re going to do a shout-out to Ontario’s flower growers and the work they do. Here are some funky facts about floriculture in Ontario and Canada.

  • Ontario represents 52.5% of Canada’s floriculture with over 220 growers and $726.3 million in annual sales.
  • Floriculture is fifth in farm cash receipts for all crops nationally, generating $1.36 billion.

    Gerbera daisy bouquets ready for delivery in a Niagara area greenhouse

  • Floriculture employs over 20,000 workers in Canada.
  • There are over 1,900 flower growers across Canada.
  • 99% of Canada’s floral industry exports go to the United States.
  • The greenhouse floriculture industry is considered one of the fastest growing areas of Canadian horticulture.
  • Tulips, gerbera, lilies, daffodils and roses are among the most produced cut flowers in Canada.
  • Many growers sell their product through a special Dutch-style auction to florists.
  • Most of Ontario’s greenhouses are located in the Niagara Region.
  • Floriculture greenhouses employ foreign workers during their busy seasons.
  • Most greenhouse flower operations are still family owned and run.
  • Ontario flower growers produce over 75 varieties of cut flowers and 120 varieties of indoor potted plants.
  • 220 greenhouses in Ontario making up 50% of Canada’s floriculture producers with a total of 30 million square feet!
  • Ontario has the fourth largest floral production area in North America, following Florida and California and Michigan.
  • 9,500 people are employed by Ontario’s greenhouses.
  • Ontario’s greenhouses account for sales of $709 million

To learn more about flowers in Ontario, check out Farm & Food Care’s handy fact sheet with facts provided by Flowers Canada Growers http://www.farmfoodcare.org/farm-fact-sheets or visit the Pick Ontario website – http://www.po.flowerscanadagrowers.com/


Technology, traceability the two biggest changes in third generation cucumber farm

By Kelly Daynard (Kingsville) – On the surface, the Cornies’ farm family story sounds a lot like many other farm stories in Ontario  – a son working in a family business that spans several generations.

Yet the path to being a cucumber greenhouse farmer wasn’t a direct one for Jamie Cornies. Although raised in the family cucumber business near Kingsville, Cornies didn’t have much interest in returning home when he graduated from high school. “That was actually the last thing I wanted to do,” he said with a chuckle.

Jamie Cornies is shown in his English cucumber greenhouse

Continue reading

Exotic houseplant turns heads and opens new markets for Ontario flower grower

By Lilian Schaer

There’s a new star in the world of potted houseplants – an exotic beauty with pink flowers that is turning heads across North America. She’s also creating Ontario jobs in the process. The plant, named Medinilla Magnifica, is in high demand, which has helped expand operations and open up new markets for Niagara Region flower grower Ted Oorsprong.

Carrie and Ted Oorsprong with a selection of the Medinilla Magnifica flowers

“We are always looking for different flowers that we can bring to market and Medinilla Magnifica really is magnificent,” says Oorsprong, owner of Northend Gardens, who first noticed the plant while in the Netherlands four years ago. “It’s easy to care for and the large cascading blooms last for a long time. It’s been a hit everywhere we’ve taken it.” Continue reading

Biological pest controls mean more plants to market for Ontario flower growers

Ontario flower growers have been struggling to find solutions to combat pests in their greenhouses that are increasingly resistant to traditional control methods.

Yellow stick cards trap bugs in this statice greenhouse

A Farm Innovation Program (FIP)-funded research project has helped them evaluate biological controls for different flower crops that will help reduce losses and bring more plants to market. “Although biological control – using good bugs to fight bad bugs – is widely used in greenhouse vegetable production, it is still developing in the flower sector,” says Jamie Aalbers, Research Director with Flowers Canada (Ontario). Continue reading

Tobacco Plants may save lives

Periodically, on this blog, we plan to profile new and innovative technologies that are both finding new uses for crops and helping to improve the lives of Canadians. We think the following is a fascinating example.

Field of Tobacco

By Lilian Schaer

PlantForm Corporation, a University of Guelph spin-off company, is using tobacco plants to manufacture treatments used to combat critical illnesses like cancer using technology developed by university researchers.

The principle focus, says PlantForm’s President and CEO Don Stewart, is to use tobacco plants to create low cost versions of biosimilar drugs – generic versions of biological medications. The plants are grown indoors and, through genetic engineering, made to express certain compounds that are then purified into alternatives to popular drugs like Herceptin, used to treat breast cancer.

“At $3,500 per dose of Herceptin, it can cost $40,000 to treat a breast cancer patient,” he says, explaining that typical biologic medications are manufactured using highly expensive cell culture systems in sophisticated pharmaceutical facilities. “Our plant-derived product is half that cost, meaning we can reduce that treatment cost to $20,000 for each patient.”
The company is also involved in a project funded through the National Research Council Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to produce a low cost drug alternative to treat HIV/AIDS in Africa. Ultimately, Stewart hopes the technology can be transferred into manufacturing directly in Africa so the drug can be made right where it is needed most.

What is the impact of this technology? Significant funds are spent annually around the world on life-saving medications, and being able to produce them more economically would make a great impact on healthcare expenditures.

“We can bring considerable savings to the healthcare system if we can reduce the annual cost of a treatment by 50 per cent, for example,” he says. “There are often limits to the number of people who can obtain certain drugs because they are so expensive. By bringing manufacturing to regions where the drugs are being used, we will make them more accessible.”

There are economic benefits to Ontario as well. PlantForm is hoping to build a manufacturing plant in the province to access the expertise of people who are familiar with greenhouse production and growing tobacco. The plants will be grown indoors in PlantForm’s own facilities and a four- acre greenhouse facility can produce enough tobacco to replace over one billion dollars’ worth of Herceptin.

Stewart credits Bioenterprise, a provincial organization with a mandate to help secure investment support for agricultural innovations, with playing a key role in PlantForm’s transition from start-up to full-fledged company.

“Bioenterprise sought us out and helped us get started, especially in showing us the correct ways to establish and finance a new company,” he explains. “Their knowledge and expertise, especially in early stage funding, have provided us with a lot of value and it has been an extremely helpful relationship for us.”

More information about PlantForm is available at www.plantformcorp.com. Funding for Bioenterprise is provided under Growing Forward, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. Visit www.bioenterprise.ca.