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Next generation at Double Diamond farms doing 'double duty'

A new generation of a family entering the greenhouse industry in Leamington, ON, is not an unusual happening. In fact, it's more normal than not in the area and has been for nearly the past 100 years.

It all began when a couple of families emigrated from the Abruzzo region of Italy in the early part of the 20th century and did what they knew best: farm. Innovative people that they were, however, they soon learned that they could extend their crop season by growing in greenhouse environments.

Fast-forward to the present, and the Leamington area is home to what is now one of the more advanced greenhouse industries in the world.

Among the original people who settled in Leamington were members of the Mastronardi family. Today, one doesn?t have to go far to find someone in the Leamington greenhouse industry with that last name. There are brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles and cousins " first, second and even third generations of them. Then add a set of twins to the mix, and the Mastronardi family grows to even larger proportions.

Benji and Chris Mastronardi are twin sons of Nick Mastronardi, owner of Double Diamond Acres in Leamington, a company that is considered a major player in the greenhouse industry. At 27 years old, the twins are sure that the greenhouse industry is how they want to make their living.

?We just like the business," said Benji Mastronardi. "Dad has been a great teacher, mentor and coach, and he has taught us the greenhouse ropes the right way."

Chris added, "We have always worked with dad. He started bringing us to the office with him when we were very young. Farming is in our blood. Our parents never pressured us in any way about making the business our career. The decision was our own."

Double Diamond was established in 1977. Nick Mastronardi bought the company in 1980 after working in the business for several years. Besides Nick, Benji and Chris, another son, Albert, also works in the company. Together, the four men share the responsibilities and duties related to growing Beefsteak and cluster tomatoes on-the-vine, as well as seedless cucumbers and orange, yellow and red bell peppers. Products are sold under the "Double Diamond? label and distributed throughout the United States and Canada.

?I oversee sales and Benji handles the day-to-day facility management," said Chris. "But we can all fill in for each other when the need arises."

Double Diamond was among the early Leamington greenhouse companies to embrace greenhouse technology. The twins concur that newly advanced technology is developed in Holland, but it reaches Leamington quickly today.

?Many aspects of the operation are now automated," said Benji. "Computers monitor the plants? needs, and in some cases they automatically deliver what the plants need. Equipment and packaging is also automated today. We are even seeing strides in automated harvesting currently. Research and development in Holland is inspired by the high labor costs in that country, so they are forced to find ways to reduce expenses. Automation is the result of that need."

Chris said that those at Double Diamond stay abreast of new technology in several ways.

?It's important to stay informed," he said. "We hear things through the industry grapevine, at conventions and trade shows. Trade representatives frequently contact us wanting to demonstrate new technology. It is also important to not become complacent with the technology that is already in place. Greenhouse technology is continually updated. New computer programs are regularly introduced that help to increase production and decrease overhead. It is imperative that we update our systems constantly in order to stay ahead of the competition."

The twins agreed that the greenhouse industry is pretty stable today.

?A level market is better than one that suffers a lot of ups and downs," said Benji. "When we can trust business to remain steady for long periods of time, we are better able to prepare business plans and strategies for the future."

Benji is married, and Chris is still single. Like their dad, the twins also love boating. When time and climate allow, they boat throughout Lake Erie with friends, family members and sometimes the more fortunate of their business associates.