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The Vineland Growers Co-operative Ltd. celebrates 100 years

Vineland Growers Co-Operative Ltd. celebrated their 100th anniversary on the grounds of H.A. Staff Farms on Saturday, June 15. The approximately 1,000 guests were greeted by a wine and hors d'oeuvres reception showcasing ‘Niagara’s Finest Wine’ and the formal opening ceremonies included addresses by Vineland Growers Co-operative Chair Phil Tregunno and political heavyweights. The mood for the event was set by the lively entertainment throughout the evening, a gourmet barbeque and the night was capped off with impressive fireworks by Garden City. Guests were welcome to peruse a museum of artifacts from the last 100 years collected and on display for the event.

“The heart and soul of this organization is our dedication to family farming. A hundred years ago, four prominent local growers laid the groundwork on forming a co-operative to better distribute product grown in the area. Today that purpose lives on. From our humble beginnings we have grown to become the largest grower organization of stone fruit in Canada with over 1 million trees on 5,000 acres,” said Michael Ecker, president, Vineland Growers Co-operative Ltd.

9-VL-VIP-HudiaTim Hudak, member of Provincial Parliament Niagara West- Glanbrook and Ontario PC leader was on hand to enjoy the festivities with his wife Debbie and daughter Miller. Tim Hudak, member of Provincial Parliament Niagara West-Glanbrook and Ontario PC Leader was on hand to enjoy the festivities with his wife Debbie and daughter Miller. “It makes me darn proud, as the MPP for so many of these growers, to say I have the best of the best that we have to offer right across Canada coming from the finest growers here. It started out with four men, a bold idea, a sense of community, I’m proud to celebrate the 100th anniversary and the best growers,” said Hudak.

Phil Tregunno, chair of the Vineland Growers Co-operative Ltd. Board of Directors, elicited a laugh from the crowd as he referenced the well-known Ontario food slogan as he welcomed the Ontario Premier. “We certainly know that Premier Wynne supports Ontario agriculture, we know that she supports local food and we certainly know that she knows good things grow in Ontario,” he said.

Kathleen Wynne is not only the Premier of Ontario, she is also Minister of Agriculture and Food. “I’m really honored to be here,” said Premier Wynne, addressing the crowd. “I am proud to be here to offer my congratulations. The talent in this community is obvious, it’s thriving, it is something that we in Ontario and the agri-food sector need to be proud of. One of the reasons that I took on the role of agriculture and food minister is that I feel so strongly that our economy in Ontario needs to play to our strengths and one of our strengths is our agri-food sector.”

Premier Wynne went on to highlight the local food act that they have introduced and hope to get passed in the fall session. “It is a symbol of what I believe we need to do and that is to invest in and shine a light on and tell the story about local food in this province,” continued Premier Wynne. “We’re going to invest 30 million dollars over the next three years to do just that,” she continued. Moneys to be invested is planned for supporting local foods, ensuring businesses have the support they need and also to tell the story about local foods in Ontario. Premier Wynne quoted a 34 billion dollar contribution to the GDP and over 700,000 jobs in Ontario are directly or indirectly associated with the agri-food business, a very significant part of the Canadian economy. “I want to thank all of you for all that you do every single day and to say to you that you have a government that wants to support you and wants to make sure that you can thrive,” said Premier Wynne.

Premier Wynne mingled with guests, answered questions and posed for pictures after the opening ceremonies and joined location host Howard Staff for the ceremonial ringing of the dinner bell. When asked how significant the Ontario produce industry is to the economy of Canada, Premier Wynne said, “Ontario is such an important part of the Canadian economy and the agri-food business, including the fruit business, is our biggest manufacturing sector so it’s really very important that as a government we do everything we can to support these growers. They’ve done a great job for 100 years and we want them to be in place another 100 years from now.”

“It became very clear very fast that this was the location and the only location [to hold the event]. Howard [Staff] chaired our Board on two separate occasions and he really has guided us through some past turbulent times,” said Mike Ecker of the sprawling Staff Farms.

Howard Staff served on the Board for 30 years, and was chair of the board for two separate terms. “When Mike [Ecker] came to me and said, ‘We’d like to do the 100 anniversary at your place’ I said sure,” said Staff. “We want to be able to put the best foot forward with the co-op, with our suppliers and the people we sell product to and with the growers that make up the backbone so we can have a celebration. There hasn’t been another organization in Canada like us that has been able to do this,” he concluded.