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We want to support you: Wynne to growers

Grimsby Lincoln News

ByDavid Watson

About 1,000 Niagara residents and visitors dodged the rain clouds to help celebrate the 100-year anniversary of Vineland Growers, a co-operative fruit company servicing Niagara grocers since 1913.

“We’ve had 100 years and it’s been 100 years of hard work and dedication,” said Vineland Growers’ chairman, Phil Tregunno. “With the innovation that’s happened, we’ve come to this stage and we’re certainly proud of what we’ve accomplished and what we will accomplish in the future.”

A dozen local wineries helped the co-op celebrate the milestone with tasting booths set up in an elegant layout on the grounds of H. A. Staff Farms in Jordan Station (Lincoln) on Saturday.

There were two major themes expressed by the growers as well as guest speakers: support made their 100 years in business possible and ongoing support is needed.

Tregunno introduced Ontario’s premier, Kathleen Wynne, as a “prominent” figure in the Niagara area due to her minister of agriculture and food title and the importance of government support for Niagara farmers.

“You have a government that wants to support you, that wants to make sure that you can thrive,” said Wynne.

Premier Wynne acknowledged that the Niagara farming sector is thriving and received her largest ovation when she said government can learn from the areas prosperity and doesn’t want to do anything to hinder its momentum.

“We’re going to try to work with you to remove the regulations that don’t make sense, to keep in place the supports that do make sense but get out of the way because you understand your industry,” she said.

With an aging population and a need for a larger labour market to sustain Ontario’s growth, Wynne addressed the concern of sacrificing land to create room for immigration and economic growth in areas other than agriculture.

“We need to make sure that we continue to preserve farmland while understanding that we need the labour market to provide for the jobs in the province.”

Currently, Ontario’s agricultural sector represents $34 billion of Canada’s gross domestic product and is responsible for 700,000 jobs. According to Wynne, this is why her government has pledged to provide $30 million to “support local food” over the next three years and continues to try to have the Local Food Act passed in parliament.

“I feel so strongly that our economy in Ontario needs to play to our strengths and one of our strengths is our agri-foods sector.”

Although 100 years is a nice round number, and a good reason to celebrate, it wasn’t the only reason for the event.

“We’re really trying to celebrate our heritage, which is our family farms,” said Vineland Growers’ president, Mike Ecker.

Unlike decades ago, when an individual farm could survive dealing only with neighbouring markets, nowadays farmers have to be able to supply enough produce for chains of grocery stores.

“Amalgamating... has really pushed the co-op to where it’s gotten today,” said Ecker.

Just as continuing support is needed in the future, Tregunno acknowledged all of the support the co-op has received.

“To our researchers, our marketing and trade associations — all valuable people that help us meet the challenges of the day and improve our quality, address our certain concerns of the day and update our growing practices, our relationship with you has always been close and your advice over the years has been invaluable.”

As thankful as the co-op was, Niagara-west MPP Tim Hudak, made sure to remind the guests of the fortunate circumstance that Niagara residents are in.

“I want to say it makes me darn proud as the MPP for so many of those growers to say ‘I have the best of the best that we have to offer right across Canada, coming from the finest growers, here,’” said Hudak.

As for the next 100 years, Vineland Growers has plans for growth and to remain at the top of the local food chain.

“We’re trying to grow more varieties,” said Ecker. “Then we can get more shelf space and more stuff in front of Canadian consumers.”