Greenhouse Canada

In the driver’s seat: this year’s top 10 under 40

These young leaders and innovators will help take the industry to the next level.

November 1, 2017  By Dave Harrison

November 2017 – Canada is full of young, skilled and knowledgeable people who are driving the greenhouse industry forward.”

That’s how we’ve been promoting the annual Top 10 Under 40 awards program the past four years, and this year’s class of recipients again proves the point.

Narrowing down the nominations to 10 award winners is a daunting challenge each year and this year was no exception.


The award winners were officially announced last month during The Gathering reception of the Canadian Greenhouse Conference in Niagara Falls.

The Top 10 Under 40 awards program was again sponsored by Paul Boers Manufacturing and Prins Greenhouses; without their support the program would not be possible.

And now, here are the 2017 award winners.

Dr. Chevonne Carlow is the greenhouse floriculture specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). Her background includes many years of working with different plant species, most notably while studying the effects of light on young plant development and the effects of temperature on plant stress responses.

Carlow completed her PhD at the University of Guelph as she stepped into her new role as the greenhouse floriculture specialist. She took the challenge of learning about the Ontario greenhouse sector in stride and was soon visiting growers to learn from them as well as to impart her knowledge.

In her role as the greenhouse floriculture specialist she has visited numerous operations in Ontario to understand their issues, and provide knowledge and guidance to improve their production.

She has been instrumental in developing information for the production of new crops for the greenhouse sector. For example, she has conducted production trials at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre on potted jasmine. Early results indicate a great demand for this product.

Another new exciting greenhouse crop she is working with is the lotus flower for its beautiful colours.

Carlow has demonstrated her ability to lead and co-operate in her role with researchers, growers and retailers as well as Flowers Canada Ontario. She works to connect growers with up-to-date information on floriculture crop production, nutrition and related issues.

In her role as a floriculture specialist, she has interacted with many individuals from various OMAFRA departments and provided her expertise to help develop policies, programs and research initiatives that will help the Ontario greenhouse sector address various issues and remain economically viable.

Will Heeman has been a driving force at Heeman’s Garden Centre since returning to the farm full-time in 2010. He’s brought new ideas and a customer focused mentality that’s transformed this retail greenhouse into a must visit destination within the region. In part, thanks to his efforts and marketing of the business, the store has enjoyed a doubling of sales in only seven years – a great accomplishment for an operation that’s been in business for 54 years.

Heeman completed a sabbatical at a garden centre in New Zealand and brought that global perspective back with him.

Some of the unique ideas he’s implemented include a Strawberry Brunch in the garden centre in August that attracted over 1000 people its first year in 2016, and its Food Truck event in September that now draws seven to eight trucks and over 1500 people in a single day.

He was also instrumental in creating the garden centre’s very popular Berry Beanery coffee bar. His efforts in expanding the fall product line has resulted in great growth in traffic and sales. The store’s workshop programming has been significantly expanded.

Heeman is very giving of his time and expertise with both the local community and the industry. He’s a member of the local Master Gardener group, speaks to numerous horticulture societies, and volunteers as a key contact for over a dozen area gardening groups.

In June of this year, he spoke on Marketing to Millennials during the Greenhouse Canada Grower Day held in St. Catharines.

Heeman was named Young Retailer of the Year in 2016 by Green Profit magazine. The judges remarked that he is the “whole package” and “someone to watch” in our industry.

Additionally he’s helped with/submitted applications for Heeman’s to earn two regional Premier’s Awards, be named Best Garden Centre four years running in the London region, and be awarded inaugural Agri-Business of the Year in 2016. Heeman’s won the Innovation Award in 2017 from the London Chamber of Commerce, the largest such event in Canada.

Scott Holmes, the CEO and founder of ET Grow, demonstrates a strong work ethic by always being “ON” and working late hours and occasionally working through the night to make sure solutions are completed quickly.

Colleagues say he displays great leadership and initiative by example. He does not dwell on the past and has an always-forward-and-keep-going philosophy.

Holmes regularly attends industry trade shows, such as the Canadian Greenhouse Conference, and a host of other industry events.

He is constantly researching and asking leading growers what they would like to see in the company’s software, to ensure it’s meeting their needs and helping them succeed.

Colleagues say he is hardworking, trustworthy and shares the industry focus of continually driving towards higher goals and doing it affordably.

Holmes continuously seeks opportunities for him and his employees to receive additional training and education.

Holmes has created a software that enables greenhouses of all sizes to run their business more effectively. The entry level and custom packages make it affordable for growers with budgets of all sizes.

An important company value is its dedication to philanthropic initiatives. “Whether our team may provide assistance in areas of our expertise (such as web site development) or lending a helping hand, giving back to the community is an area Extreme Technology prides itself in,” notes the company web site.

Holmes has received top business awards in the Niagara Region in the technology sector. He received the Young Professional of the Year award during the 2013 Niagara Business Achievement Awards ceremonies.

ET Grow is continuing to work on new business solutions for the greenhouse industry.

Dejan Kristan is the marketing director with Flowers Canada Ontario. He has worked with Ontario’s greenhouse floriculture industry since 2015, first as an independent contractor and now as an employee with FCO.

With FCO, Kristan has been responsible for guiding the impressive growth of the pickOntario brand, and re-envisioning marketing strategies to keep consumers buying Ontario flowers.

He has had a long list of successes since 2015, such as:

  • Growing pickOntario’s social media presence from under 1,000 followers on Facebook to over 26,000 today.
  • Creating promotional videos that have been viewed over 600,000 times.
  • Creating viral marketing campaigns that have subsequently been copied in both the U.S. and the U.K.
  • Pioneering the development of flower crowns as a tool to engage millennials.
  • Building virtual reality tours of greenhouse flower farms.
  • Dramatically increasing the presence and recognition of the pickOntario brand.

The reason for Kristan’s success? Colleagues say his work ethic is second to none. Many of his successes have required substantial effort over very short periods of time. In many cases he has found himself working day and night through weekdays and weekends to achieve the objectives of the association, all without complaint or hesitation.

“Dejan has taken a leadership role within both floral marketing and in our office,” said FCO executive director Andrew Morse. “His initiative and drive for success can be seen in his capacity to conceive, test and roll out several new ideas.”

From exploring new technologies to reaching new demographics, Kristan has shown true leadership and initiative. In some cases he has come up with ideas where implementation was beyond his skill set. In those cases he has been able to identify his own knowledge gap and identify a solution to fill it.

Continuous learning has enabled him to move several concepts and ideas to functioning systems. He has continued to engage with FCO members and industry stakeholders through participating in several industry events including the Canadian Greenhouse Conference, Cultivate and the International Floriculture Expo.

Stephanie Lariviere is the regulatory affairs manager with Erie James Ltd. & Sunsation Acres Inc., of Leamington, Ontario.

In 2010, she was invited to speak on behalf of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers (OGVG) at the Canada-U.S. Law Conference as a panel expert on food safety.

She continues to serve as a grower representative with the OGVG and has been an active member of its food safety committee for many years.

She was selected as a delegate accompanying OGVG to Shanghai and Hong Kong on a number of trade missions. The goal of the missions was to explore opportunities for new markets, represent Canada and its Ontario growers, and to educate Chinese government officials about the Ontario industry.

In 2011, Lariviere was recognized by CPMA as a rising star in the produce industry through its Passion for Produce program.

In 2013, she was the recipient of the Mary Fitzgerald Award for her ongoing leadership, passion and involvement in the produce industry.

Since participating in the Fall Harvest event in Ottawa in 2013, she now has a strong, ongoing and growing interest in government relations.

In 2014, she was featured in the January issue of The Grower and applauded for her dedicated focus on educating the industry on staying compliant amid the many changing regulatory landscapes of food safety.

In 2015, Lariviere was re-elected as a director for CanAgPlus for a second two-year term and was re-appointed for her third term to serve on the Stakeholder Advisory Council for CanadaGAP.

She is currently chairman of the Stakeholder Advisory Council for CanadaGAP.

She also participates in the CPMA Regulatory Modernization Working Group, and is vice-chair of the CPMA Food Safety Committee, of which she has been a long time and active member.

In addition, she has also been a director for the OGMA (Ontario Greenhouse Marketers Association) for the past six years.

“Stephanie has passion, dedication and vision,” said a colleague.

“She is particularly interested in improving the produce industry and the safety and security of its supply chain for all stakeholders.”

Lariviere is a proud PFP (Passion for Produce) alumna, who has also served multiple times as a career ambassador for the PMA’s Career Pathway program.

She is committed to engaging future generations to become involved in the produce industry, by supporting and mentoring new generations of industry talent.

Paul J. Mastronardi is vice-president with Golden Jem. He has been very active in researching trends and opportunities for the greenhouse industry and has been involved in all parts of the growing, packing and distribution of greenhouse vegetables throughout the marketplace.

“He is well past his age in maturity,” said a colleague, and he has been instrumental in building and maintaining a successful greenhouse operation at Red Sun Canada.

Mastronardi was very instrumental in the development of Red Sun Ohio, the company’s first greenhouse with supplemental lighting.

Coming from three generations of history and knowledge has helped him understand the passion it takes to be successful and grow in the industry.

Outside of the company, he has been fully engaged with helping develop a hydroponic greenhouse program at Ohio State ATI. He is on the advisory committee of the university’s greenhouse and nursery management program.

Closer to home, he recently joined the Windsor Essex Economic Development Board representing the greenhouse industry.

“The passion Paul brings every day is very instrumental to the success he has had at such a young age,” said a colleague.

Jim Meyers leads sales, transportation, purchasing and administration at Meyers Fruit Farms and Greenhouses, a family owned farm and greenhouse located in Niagara-on-the-Lake. He enjoys the opportunities and challenges the business brings while helping to lead it into its third generation of ownership.

Colleagues praise his leadership abilities, and his positive people skills in helping employees rise to their full potential. He has been a key driver in the steady growth of the company that has seen sales more than double over the past 10 years.

He is well known in the Ontario horticulture sector and is willing to share his knowledge with others. He is very positive and well spoken in his efforts to boost the industry.

“As a consultant, I have worked with Meyers Fruit farms and greenhouses for three generations and Jim is continuing the tradition of hard work, (taking after his grandfather Jim and father Fred), product passion and a dedication to sales growth,” said Melhem Sawaya.

“Jim and the rest of the Meyers team are quick to incorporate new technology and new varieties in their efforts to best serve their customers. His enthusiasm for premium flower products is contagious and you can see it in every employee at Meyers. He truly leads by example.

“What I notice most about the whole Meyers management team is the inclusiveness of the whole family, and that is not only the blood related family members but all of their employees. This is reflected by the high average number of years employees have worked at Meyers, and Jim is all about inclusiveness, team work, and building a humble environment of a successful operation which I have seen growing for the last number of years. All this is driven by Jim, the sales team and a production team that fulfills the sales needs with a consistent quality product.”  

Meyers has been a panelist at both the International Floriculture Expo (formerly Superfloral) and the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Convention.

Most recently, he outlined the “Ingredients of a Successful Farm Business” at Greenhouse Canada’s Grower Day this past June. Making a family business work and be successful includes good organizational planning, specific responsibilities, enthusiastic teamwork and positive attitudes all around, he noted. Family businesses need to be continuously on the lookout for new opportunities – and never become stagnant.

Dustin Morton is a commercial horticulture specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. He is a key resource and supporter of the Alberta Greenhouse Growers Association and the Alberta Farm Fresh Producers Association.

Three growers from across the province sent in individual nominations for him. Here’s a sampling of what they had to say.

“Dustin has a great passion for the industry and it shows in all he does, right from answering grower questions, organizing
events and conferences, and helping book speakers for industry conferences.”

His passion for the industry shows in the fact that he is also running Parsnips and Paddocks, the CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) farm near Wetaskiwin that he and his family operate.

“His love of horticulture is the basis of what he does and a big part of who he is. Dustin is a fantastic asset to our industry with his knowledge and information contacts through Alberta Ag as well as being involved in business personally that gives him a unique and very in-depth perspective on the industry as a whole. He is able and willing to share those experiences and insights with everyone in industry.”

Morton helps organize tours of greenhouses for growers. “He encourages new growers to work with new technology and links growers to industry officials he know can help.”

Dustin and his wife, Anna, operate a horse farm and their CSA, have four children under seven, and always have time to visit with customers and friends.

And summarizing the third nomination: “As the commercial horticulture specialist he works tirelessly to develop and implement positive change and strategic programs to benefit the grower on practical levels. His enthusiasm for all things green and horticulture is admirable.

Morton is very committed to attending industry events and the process of continual learning. “He is very proficient at applying this knowledge to pass on to growers and taking the message to a larger audience around the province. He has also facilitated in bringing many key presenters to events that may not otherwise be accessible to our industry groups.”

Max Saad, director of procurement with Mastronardi Produce, has been in the greenhouse industry his entire career.

He began working at Mastronardi Produce at Mastron Greenhouse. Over the years, he grew with the company, quickly becoming an expert in each area in which he worked, from growing to quality control to procurement.

As director of procurement for Canada, Saad is exceptionally knowledgeable in all areas of greenhouse growing in the country, from food safety to propagation. He has a thorough understanding of the entire growing process, and helps his team understand the challenges and opportunities of the Canadian greenhouse industry.

In 2014, he was selected by company president and CEO Paul Mastronardi to represent the company in CPMA’s Passion for Produce program to help grow his professional career. In addition, he completed the Emerging Leaders Program through the Produce Marketing Association.  

Saad graduated from the Produce Industry Leadership program this summer. This highly regarded program selects only 12 participants each year, focusing on leadership development, business relationships and government/public affairs relations.

Within the company, Saad is also part of the company’s RED Team, an internal leadership group that collaborates regularly on long-term business strategies.

Levi Tiemstra is part of the family ownership of Gull Valley Greenhouses, of Blackfalds, Alberta.

One admirer of his success as a grower and manager is retired provincial greenhouse crop specialist Dr. Mohyuddin Mirza. “I have the honour of knowing Levi going back to when he started crawling in the greenhouse of his father Phil Tiemstra,” said Mirza.

Learning all of his horticultural skills on the job and his managerial ability through two years of business education from Red Deer College, Tiemstra brought his knowledge to forefront when he started in his role as a partner in the business.

Of particular note, his single most outstanding accomplishment was in 2016-2017. Gull Valley has the distinction of being the first farm to build and operate an LED greenhouse in Alberta.

“I believe this shows his leadership in the industry,” said Mirza, “and his willingness to take risks in their efforts to supply fresh vegetables in winter.”

Produce from Gull Valley goes to several farmers markets and to Pik-N-Pak Produce in nearby Lacombe.

The Tiemstras installed LED interlighting and toplighting units. They have 12 varieties of tomatoes under LED lighting. “These taste just as good as the summer crop, and yet they’re grown in the dead of winter,” said Tiemstra in a video interview.

Gull Valley is mastering the art of growing greenhouse vegetables under LED lighting, and Levi Tiemstra is playing a large role in that success.

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