Alberta growers' group honours industry leaders

April 09, 2014
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April 9, 2014, Edmonton — Alberta growers paid tribute to several industry leaders during the annual AGGA awards banquet.

HERB KNODEL AWARD

Gordon Hay received the Herb Knodel Award. This award is presented to an individual or individuals who have made a significant contribution to the growth and development of the Alberta greenhouse industry.

Hay learned early how to repair or rebuild farm machinery. After careers as a millwright and farm machinery parts specialist, he was asked to build greenhouse equipment.

Born in Saskatchewan, Hay came to Alberta in the fall of the 1950 and quickly found work. He worked as a parts man for International Harvester, and then became a millwright and worked at the
5694_agga_award_to_gordon_hay_owner_of_growers_machinery_manufacturing__repair
AGGA board member Dietrich Kuhlmann, with Gordon and Louise Hay.
Texaco refinery and later for Dow Chemical.

He started with seeding lines for tree seedling growers, before adding tray fillers and blending equipment. Growers Machinery Manufacturing & Repair soon became one of the best-known manufacturers in Canada, with sales across the country.

Hay says growers are loyal customers.

“The machines are simple and inexpensive, all-in-one units that don’t take up much space,” Hay explains. “There’s no sense over-building something. Keep it easy to use.”

The industry has been very good to the company. “No one ever haggled about price and everyone paid their bills.”

MERITORIOUS SERVICES AWARD

Earning the Meritorious Service award was Mike Aleman.

Born in Outdoorp, the Netherlands 1947 in, his family (mom, dad and 10 children) emigrated to Canada and his father found work with a sugar beet farmer in Alberta.

Mike got married in 1969 and he and Marie moved to Lacombe in 1970 to work on a feedlot. They had three children over a span of six years – Lyle (1971), Kim (1973) and Leanne (1977).
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Dr. Mohyuddin Mirza, with Mike Aleman and Marie Barthel.
In 1978, the family moved to Medicine Hat where Aleman considered a couple of farming options. He narrowed it down to chickens, pigs or greenhouses.

Greenhouses won out in 1980 and he purchased a 22,000-square-foot greenhouse “without a clue,” he says, “on how to grow cucumbers.”

He became a very fast learner! He worked for the previous owner for a month to learn as much as he could.

It was interesting that during this month he first met Dr. Mohyuddin Mirza during a lunch with the former owner. Mike remembers that during this lunch the conversation included talk of getting the greenhouse growers organized. “What foresight Mirza had back then,” he noted.

Aleman knows how much things have changed since then. Long gone are the days of steaming the soil, rota-tilling the beds, watering by hand, and working with open burners you had to light each night. Cooling involved pulling chains to open vents.

The first January natural gas heating bill in 1981 was $2,200! (When Aleman then looked back at the previous year’s financials, the entire year had been $1,900. He had to wonder what he had gotten himself into!)

Because of a continual battle with nematodes, Aleman, along with colleague Art denHollander, decided to try prefilled grow bags. ”It was costly but it worked well and it seemed like the best alternative to soil.”

They never went back to soil after that.

In 1985, Aleman expanded the farm with a 20,000-square-foot poly greenhouse to expand his cucumber production. “The highlight was having a concrete main pathway,” said. “What a luxury.”

In 1994, he expanded again on a new site and built a 45,000-square-foot greenhouse.

During his 33 years in the industry, he has grown cucumbers, mini cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, butter lettuce and herbs.

Aleman is a past director on the AGGA. He has also served several terms on the Red Hat Co-op board.

He recently sold his greenhouses and is looking forward to retirement and spending more time with his grandchildren.

However, he is still involved with the industry and is helping oversee crops being grown in the CDC South facilities in Brooks.

GROWER OF THE YEAR/BEDDING PLANTS


This award to Debbie Foisy of Deb’s Greenhouse and U-Pick Raspberry recognizes the accomplishments of a master marketer and enthusiastic entrepreneur.

After years of operating a home-based business selling a number of products, Debbie Foisy and her husband Cody built their first greenhouse in 2009 near Wildwood, Alberta. Debbie liked the idea of being able to operate a business just steps away from the family home.
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AGGA president Michiel Verheul, with Debbie and Cody Foisy.
The fact the business is focused on plants is a bonus. Foisy comes from a gardening family, “so getting her hands dirty was no problem,” said award presenter Michiel Verheul.

She also took woodworking classes in school, and was quite skilled in it, so much so that she has been able to craft and sell highly sought after potato bins and wooden planters.

“Debbie has always had an entrepreneurial spirit,” said Verheul. “She loves selling stuff.”

And more than that, she likes to help others sell more “stuff.” After talking with small business consultant Bill McCurry, a 2012 speaker at the Alberta Green Industry Show, she was encouraged to launch an online forum for growers and retailers.

The result is the widely circulated “Greenhouse Marketing Forum” ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) that attracts daily questions, answers, suggestions and ideas. Foisy moderates the forum, and often launches discussions.

The greenhouses have grown to 6,700 square feet. Debbie handles the books, seeding, retail displays and advertising, and her husband Cody looks after the watering and the maintenance.
A perennial greenhouse has been added.

(The “raspberry” business didn’t get off to the same quick start as did the greenhouse. The problem? Local deer, unfortunately, also like raspberries. Since fencing was installed, the berry business has blossomed.)

And when they’re not working in the greenhouse, they’re taking care of their landscape plantings. They’ve won a pair of community gardening awards.

Marketing has been their forte. In 2013, the major focus was on Cool Wave Pansies, and customers responded at the checkout. This year’s focus will be the new Dummen Red Fox Johnny Flame petunia.

GROWER OF THE YEAR/VEGETABLES


Ryan Cramer, the oldest son of Albert and Angie Cramer, owners of Rolling Acres Greenhouses in Medicine Hat, was named the Grower Of The Year in the vegetable sector.

He grew up working in the greenhouse with his family.
 5694_agga_grower_award_to_ryan_cramer
 Ryan Cramer, at right, with parents Angie and Albert Cramer.
Cramer was involved in several expansions through the years, which he thoroughly enjoyed.  So much so that upon graduating from high school, he teamed up with his cousin Mark Makkinga and together they built greenhouse structures for a few years.

After that time he returned to Rolling Acres and became more involved with the growing aspects of the business as well as expanding into pepper production.

In 2009, he embarked on the construction of County Fresh Farms with his uncle and father. The initial phase consisted of four acres of cucumbers grown under lights for year-round production. 

After several expansions, Cramer currently manages 15 acres of long English and mini-cucumbers.

He and his wife Brianne live close to the greenhouse with their two children.

 
 


 


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