FCO’s 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award
By Dave Harrison
Jan. 19, 2017, Jordan, Ont. – John Valk has added another accolade to his already highly distinguished career in greenhouse horticulture.
Valk was presented with this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award from FCO during the annual general meeting of Flowers Canada Ontario.
Making the presentation was his long-time friend and colleague Rob Bierhuizen of Sunrise Greenhouses. The two served on many boards and committees over the years.
Past winners include Jim Meyers (Meyers Flowers), Jim Pepetone (Terra Greenhouses), Jim and Clemens Van der Zalm (Colonial Florists), Otto Bulk (Rosa Flora), Jim Jeffery (Jeffery’s Greenhouses), Rob Bierhuizen (Sunrise Greenhouses), and Leo Reus (Balfour Greenhouses).
ARRIVING IN CANADA
Valk’s family immigrated to a Brantford, Ontario, area dairy farm when he was six. His dad had worked at dairy farming and grew cold frame vegetables in the Netherlands.
The family soon moved to the small town of Grimsby where a nine-acre fruit farm was purchased and work slowly began on building Valk Greenhouses. The first greenhouse crop featured 4,000 square feet of spring tomatoes.
While in high school, Valk had started working at Jordan Greenhouses, which was next door to their own farm. After graduation in 1964, he began working with his dad.
“John was very industrious, working four days a week at Jordan’s and then the remaining three days on the home farm,” Bierhuizen explained.
ONTARIO JUNIOR FARM ESTABLISHMENT LOAN
In 1968, Valk obtained an Ontario Junior Farmer Establishment Loan for $40,000 and built a 1400 square foot bungalow as well as new greenhouses on the farm.
Around this time John and Pauline were married and, working as a team, they built up the farm and their family over the succeeding years. Valk Greenhouses grew to 130,000 square feet, with three acres of outdoor production. Their main crops were hydrangeas, poinsettias and geraniums.
And for 10 of those years, their son Sean was a partner in the farm. They now have five grandchildren.
MANY YEARS OF VOLUNTEER SERVICE
Even with all of the daily pressures of raising a family and building a business, Valk happily volunteered his time to actively lead many of the industry’s associations. “His forward-thinking ideas strengthened not only his business but also the industry as a whole,” said Bierhuizen.
Over a course of 17 years, Valk was:
• Board member and VP Production for Flowers Canada National.
• Board member and president of Flowers Canada (Ontario).
• Board member and VP of the Cecil Delworth Foundation.
• Board member of the COPF.
• Founding president of AgEnergy, a position he eventually held for eight years.
While the business was growing, so too was the town. Twelve years ago a developer presented the family with an offer to buy the farm they couldn’t refuse.
Bierhuizen picks up the story: “Now with spare time on his hands and not willing to sit idle, John jumped in once again to help Flowers Canada Ontario. (Then executive director) Dr. Irwin Smith needed someone to canvass the industry and get growers to sign a petition to the Farm Products Marketing Commission for FCO to gain Section 12 status. John, of course, was successful in getting enough signatures for that petition.”
And more recently, he has joined Excalibur Plastics part-time and is selling plastics to the greenhouse industry.
Sean Valk was unable to attend the ceremony but congratulated his dad in an email.
“I couldn’t agree more with the selection of my father for this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Growing up in the industry, my father always taught us the value of a healthy industry.”
He recalled how the industry rallied to assist the family after his brother passed away in 1993 at age 18.
‘AN INDUSTRY THAT FEELS MORE LIKE A FAMILY’
“As devastating as this was, when I look back at those days there are a few things that really stand out that helped us get through that, including the outpouring of support from other growers in the area. There was an army of trucks ready to deliver our products, and people volunteering to manage the crop or anything else we might have needed…This is an industry that feels more like a family.”
He said he “couldn’t be prouder” that his father was one of the founding members of Flowers Canada Ontario.
In accepting the award, Valk said he has had the privilege of working with “a lot of great and interesting people on all the boards on which I have served.”
The work on the various boards and committees was very important to him. “I always felt I got more out of serving on them than I put in.”
Associations like Flowers Canada are important in ensuring government officials understand the challenges and needs of the industry. “In talking to the government, it helps to have a strong association.”
He concluded by saying “it’s a great feeling to win this award.”