Tornado recovery

March 14, 2011
Written by Fred Groves
There are photos of several acres of bustling and productive greenhouses in the lobby of Keepsake Plants on Seacliff Drive in Leamington, Ontario.

 p14_3889-Keepsake-  
Some of the destroyed Keepsake greenhouses.

 
The company, formerly known as Yoder Canada, will have to get the aerial camera out again as they plan to rebuild on a different site following the destructive tornado that whipped through the area in June of last year.

Keepsake Plants was one of the hardest hit of the local growing operations. Plans to rebuild were launched immediately after the storm.
The tornado was a major setback, but the company is rebounding with confidence.

“It’s made us stronger,” says director of operations Rob Bigley. “When times are tough, the tough get going. It’s built a lot of character in our company. We have dedicated employees who helped us through this. They did whatever it took to get us up and running.”

THE F-1 CATEGORY STORM SKIRTED THE LAKE ERIE SHORELINE
In the early morning hours of Sunday, June 6, 2010, an F-1 category tornado ripped its way along a section of the Lake Erie shoreline. Damage was reported in Harrow, Colchester, Kingsville, and especially in Leamington where large trees were uprooted and the town’s biggest park largely decimated.

Keepsake Plants has plans to build three to five acres of new growing facilities at its nearby property on the Albuna Townline. The property where the tornado went through, which includes offices, will be redeveloped.

Bigley acknowledges the co-operation of other greenhouse operations in helping Keepsake weather the impact of the storm damage. For example, several helped out by providing cooler space and that meant Keepsake was able to service its customers.

The losses, in plants and facilities, will amount to several millions of dollars.

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs estimated tornado damage of around $24 million. While both Keepsake Plants and the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers lobbied for financial support from various levels of government, it doesn’t look like it will happen.

MONEY FOR MARINA REPAIRS, BUT NO GOVERNMENT FUNDS FOR GROWERS
Both Leamington Mayor John Patterson and MPP Bruce Crozier, whose riding neighbours the Leamington area, say there will be no government funding available for growers.

p14_3889-Rob-Bigley-GROVES  
Keepsake Plants director of operations Rob Bigley
 
Several other greenhouses also suffered considerable damage. Twelve homes were destroyed, but thankfully there were no deaths or serious injuries.

Both Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and provincial agriculture minister Carol Mitchell toured the area.

“When you think what this community went through,” says OGVG general manager George Gilvesy, “there was tremendous resilience from our members.”

Just hours after the tornado, affected growers were already talking about repairs and rebuilding. “If the storm would have come a kilometre north (inland), we would have lost a quarter of our acreage,” he notes.

PELEE HYDROPONICS REBUILDS TOMATO, CUCUMBER FACILITIES
One of the hardest hit vegetable operations was Pelee Hydroponics on County Road 20. The tornado wiped out four acres of organic tomatoes and two acres of seedless cucumbers.

By early January, the company was quite busy, as it had rebuilt the six acres destroyed in the storm and was preparing for a new crop. “We are in critical mode trying to put everything together,” says owner Dennis Dick.

Pelee Hydroponics used the rebuilding to make some changes. “We switched our heating system to hot water and that’s an improvement,” says Dick.


 Groves is a freelance writer and photographer in Leamington.

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