Share |

A Niagara fruit co-op celebrates 100 years

NIAGARA - What a difference a century makes for a cornerstone Niagara agricultural institution.

Vineland Growers’ Cooperative recently celebrated its centennial, with a bash at H.A. Staff Farms that drew more than 900 people, including Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. The celebrants marked an institution whose seed started in Sept. 12, 1913 when four prominent fruit growers in the region met to discuss the formation of a fruit company co-op. Through the years, the co-operative expanded and diversified in its role buying and selling the fruit from members and non-members. It also handles a line of growers’ supplies. Over the years, the volume of fruit handled by Vineland Growers — as well as its containers and supplies and fleet of trucks, tractors and trailers — has steadily increased.

“We were celebrating our great history and our 100 years of family farming in the Niagara peninsula,” said Michael Ecker, president of the cooperative that’s based in Jordan Station (its head office) and Virgil. “And we’re the oldest continuous farming cooperative in Ontario.”

In 2011, it assembled and marketed more than 1,145,000 cases of fruit and reached gross sales of fruit and supplies of more than $33.8 million. There are 28 full-time employees who now service more than 300 members, however the number of workers grows to more than 60 during the harvest season. Essentially, the co-op bulk-buys from growers and markets the produce, said Ecker. The profits remaining above funds the co-op needs to operate goes back to members at the end of the year.

“The co-op had been an (effective) way for the farmers to deal directly with the retailers, through the co-op,” he said. “There’s been amalgamations ... where there used to be a lot of independent stores," he said. "So they’re large conglomerates now. By the growers working together, they can supply the needs of these large organizations like Loblaw, Walmart, Sobeys, Metro, Costco.”



Don Fraser