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Top 10 Under 40 Are Now Ready to Lead

From potentially industry changing innovations, to association involvement and early career success, and to business ventures being created, this year’s winners will certainly be heard from in the future.

October 22, 2015  By Dave Harrison

ational sales manager Nashelle Barsky, centre at back, congratulates winners attending The Gathering of CGC’15.

It was another banner year for the calibre of Top 10 Under 40 award nominations.

And that’s great news for the future of the industry.

The challenge this year, as it was last year, was selecting only “10” from among the nominees. (It could easily have been a Top Dozen … or More … Under 40. We strongly encourage those who nominated someone this year who were not selected among this year’s Top 10 to submit the nomination again next year, if the nominee still meets the “Under 40” criteria.)


From new potentially industry changing innovations to enthusiastic industry involvement and early career success, this year’s group of winners will certainly be heard from over the next few years.

The Top 10 Under 40 program was again sponsored by Paul Boers Manufacturing and Prins Greenhouses.

As we said in promoting the program: “Canada is full of young, skilled and knowledgeable people who are driving the greenhouse industry forward. From commercial growers and wholesalers to manufacturers, equipment suppliers and service providers, they are the best and brightest in our industry.”

Without further adieu, here is this year’s Top 10 Under 40.

Eric Doef is the grower/manager of Doef’s Greenhouses of Lacombe, Alberta.

This family operation is well known for its production of high quality vegetables, success at diversification, and pioneering use of supplemental lights for winter production of cucumbers and tomatoes.

Consultant Dr. Mohyuddin Mirza said Doef has long been a keen student of greenhouse vegetable production, eager to adopt new technologies and systems where appropriate.

The farm has implemented a number of labour performance efficiency measures and has applied lean management principles.

It is also on the forefront of energy use initiatives, improving energy efficiency throughout the business.

“Eric has been very active on social media, including Twitter and Facebook, not only to promote Doef’s Greenhouses but to promote the entire Alberta greenhouse vegetable industry,” said Mirza.

Doef also took a leadership role in the use of supplemental lights for greenhouse production of vegetables in winter. It is due to his leadership role that greenhouse cucumbers and tomatoes are available year-round in Alberta.

Doef’s Greenhouses was the first operation in Alberta to experiment with and adopt a high-wire cucumber production system along with the use of troughs.

It also built a state-of-the-art cucumber production greenhouse in 2010 and Doef was instrumental in adopting various plant management technologies, such as inter-cropping.

Doef has been quite generous in sharing his knowledge with new growers, or anybody interested in the greenhouse business. He has made significant contributions on the use of LED lights in Alberta.

He was invited to speak at last month’s Canadian Greenhouse Conference with the topic: “Experiences with Artificial Lighting in Commercial Greenhouse Vegetable Production.”

“I have always admired his leadership qualities with encouraging research,” said Mirza. “He has been in the forefront to offer space for many such projects in the greenhouse. We did some original work on internal fruit rot of peppers in his greenhouse and learned how the fusarium fungus behaves under different temperature and relative humidity conditions.”

Doef has a positive attitude towards continued greenhouse industry growth. He is always willing to share economic data, host tours through their greenhouses, and is always contributing towards making the greenhouse business sustainable.

“Eric has learned a great deal from his parents, Joe and Helen Doef,” said Mirza.

Christopher Gill is the director of greenhouse operations with Mastronardi Produce, based in Kingsville, Ont.

This past winter saw the completion of Mastronardi Produce’s newest expansion, Pepperco USA, the first large-scale pepper greenhouse in the U.S. The expansion was the most recent of three phases of construction to the Coldwater Farms facility located in Coldwater, Mich., expanding the massive greenhouse to 100 acres.

This challenging project was undertaken under the guidance and supervision of Gill.

“It’s because of his ambition, penchant for quality, and his innovation that the facility was able to go from a large idea to a fully operational greenhouse in less than one year,” said company president and CEO Paul Mastronardi.

Gill’s passion and initiative led him to be involved in virtually each stage of construction, from the initial research of all automation and advanced technology, to the execution and implementation of the final design.

The multi-million dollar project had Gill travelling overseas to learn about the world’s latest greenhouse technology, resulting in harvest cart automation, year-round grow lights and innovative software solutions to be incorporated into the Michigan greenhouse.

Gill also took the initiative to lead most of the negotiations for the build and was responsible for the sign-off on the design.

He has trained the operations team to understand all the functions, processes and procedures of the greenhouse, ensuring a smooth transition and operation once the greenhouse was in full production.

Although the Coldwater facility is the newest addition to Mastronardi Produce, and Gill’s largest undertaking to date, he also supervises operations at Mastronardi’s largest SUNSET tomato trial facility, Mastron Enterprises in Kingsville, Ontario, and Mastronardi’s first carbon negative greenhouse, Envirofresh Farms in Sombra, Ontario.

In his nine years at Mastronardi Produce, Gill has successfully implemented several innovative ways to effectively increase productivity and efficiency within the company. He has overseen a wide range of projects and is trusted to lead greenhouse operations into the future. He is a natural leader, a key player in leading the industry in innovation and sustainability, and an integral part of Mastronardi Produce’s growing success.

Aron Hoff, production manager at Meyers Flowers in Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario, had studied to be a teacher. However, 12 years ago, when the company decided to expand, Aron and his cousins Jim and Blake decided to come to the home farm.

Hoff immediately took on some of the growing responsibilities, and with the help of his uncle, Fred Meyers, and the rest of the team, he was off to a good start. In no time he was coordinating all the aspects of production, from day-to-day crop tasks, purchasing all the growing material, planning the crops, and in getting involved in the many decisions related to continued business expansion.

His enthusiasm isn’t confined to the greenhouse. He enjoys working on a number of industry committees, including work with Flowers Canada Ontario and the speaker committee of the Canadian Greenhouse Conference.

“Aron is very skilled in developing procedures for handling crops and coordinating the home farm and other facilities,” said consultant Melhem Sawaya of Focus Greenhouse Management.

“He is a hard working manager and a great communicator. He handles his many responsibilities in a calm manner.”

Sawaya said Hoff is a great student of greenhouse horticulture, eager to absorb the latest information.

“What he is accomplishing now, without any horticulture schooling, normally requires a university degree and several years of experience. He applies common sense, a strong work ethic and his greenhouse experience to any challenge, and he prevails at everything he attempts.”

Miles Hunter was born with two green thumbs – he is a third-generation garden centre owner and fourth-generation horticulturist.

His grandfather founded David Hunter Garden Centers in 1953, where Miles now works as general manager.

He grew up on the family nursery learning about growing and selling all types of plants.

He began helping out at the garden centre at the age of 12. In addition to learning how to care for plants in the family’s large garden, he also worked in the nursery, greenhouse and at the garden centres.

He enthusiastically shares his wealth of knowledge every day as he helps customers find solutions to their gardening challenges.

In college, he earned a diploma in marketing at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) and then a bachelor’s of business administration with a specialty in human resource management at Simon Fraser University (SFU).

Over the years, he has implemented many systems and processes to streamline the operation. He developed the first website and started the first e-mail marketing campaigns. In 2009, he implemented a point of sale system to provide more accurate tracking of sales and profitability. In 2010, he took over the position of general manager from his father, Ron, and has continued to improve the company in many ways.

In addition to working at the garden centres, he has been involved with the B.C. Landscape Nursery Association (BCLNA) and the Canadian Landscape Nursery Association (CNLA), working on committees and volunteering at the
CanWest Hort Show and at various industry events, including the International Garden Centre Congress in 2008 and the Perennial Plant Association Symposium in 2013.

Cara McCreary is the new greenhouse vegetable IPM specialist with OMAFRA, starting her new role with the ministry in January 2015.

She works out of the AAFC Greenhouse and Processing Crops Research Centre in Harrow. Prior to this, McCreary was with the Ridgetown Campus of the University of Guelph, where she had been a research associate in the Edible Bean program since 2012.

Prior to joining the University of Guelph, she spent six months as the acting field crop entomologist in the Agriculture Development Branch with OMAFRA.

McCreary has a master of science in environmental biology from the University of Guelph, a bachelor of commerce in business administration from the University of Windsor, and an associate diploma in horticulture from the University of Guelph.

During her master’s degree, she studied the life cycle, temperature-dependent development and economic impact of an agricultural pest, the bean leaf beetle.

Pest management has been her focus and passion through both her work experience and education.

She started her greenhouse experience as a scout at one of the larger greenhouses in the Leamington area where she was responsible for the IPM program for a 52-acre tomato operation. Subsequently, she changed employers and worked with MGS (now Plant Products) as a scout in the Chatham-Kent area where she was responsible for scouting 42 acres of greenhouse vegetables, providing up-to-date information to the growers to maintain their IPM program. She also has experience as a greenhouse supervisor and horticultural advisor.

Throughout much of her schooling, McCreary ran a landscaping business, providing maintenance and gardening services from Windsor to Guelph.

Dan Newhouse, a Niagara College graduate, worked for a couple years at a large greenhouse farm in Niagara. One day he came home and suggested to his family that they, too, should get into the greenhouse industry. At the time the Newhouses were onion farmers.

What a great suggestion that was!

In 16 years, the company has grown steadily under his leadership to a 200,000-square-foot, highly efficient potted plant greenhouse operation in Wainfleet, Ont.

Newhouse constantly looks for – and enthusiastically implements – innovative technologies, while also striving for the highest quality of plants.

He has worked with Flowers Canada Ontario on committees to find industry solutions to address issues related to water inspections of greenhouse facilities by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment.

He readily shares his insights and experiences for the benefit of the entire sector.

“He can often be found at the farm seven days a week, taking an active interest in each of the plants grown and ensuring that they all grow into a quality plant worthy of the Waldan Gardens name,” said consultant Jamie Aalbers.

Yves Roy completed his M.Sc. (2015) and B.Sc. (2012) degrees in bioresource engineering at McGill University. He is currently working as a project engineer at Consultants Lemay & Choinière.

“I have known Yves for over five years as a student in bioresource engineering at McGill University,” said Prof. Mark Lefsrud. “He was one of the top students I have ever had the pleasure to teach and mentor.”

For his M.Sc., he worked on developing an exhaust gas purification system for using a wood pellet stove for carbon dioxide enrichment. A patent for “Apparatus For Carbon Dioxide Enrichment” was filed and is in the process of being approved. FlueTRU is a start-up bioengineering firm that has licensed this innovative and economically advantageous solution for the greenhouse industry.

The technology purifies the smoke exhaust from biomass heating systems to provide a heated and clean source of CO2 that increases crop yield and reduces heating costs.

Roy also led a team of students in the development of the marketing plan of this company and submitted it into an entrepreneurship competition at McGill University. He and the team won the McGill Dobson Cup Grit Prize and the McGill University Macdonald Campus Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation Competition prize.

Roy has followed up the initial design patent with an improved particle removal system to work with the FlueTRU design to extend the life of the filters of the system. This patent is titled “Electrocyclonic Particles Collector (EPC).”

Roy is the early stages of setting up the company and is hoping to push the technology into the marketplace to allow greenhouse growers to use the exhaust gases from a wood pellet furnace and provide an organic form of carbon dioxide for horticultural greenhouse crops.

Thomas Sawaya is an assistant grower with George Sant & Sons Greenhouses in Kleinburg, Ont.

“He has done a great job adapting to growing young plants and fully understanding their needs,” said Ron Sant.

Sawaya is a recent Niagara College grad.

He has helped manage the Sawaya Garden Trials for several years. This is one of the largest container trials in North America with more than 2,200 cultivars. The trials attract hundreds of growers from across the province to see which
varieties perform best under southwestern Ontario conditions.

The result of Sawaya’s trials supervision diligence? Visitors to the trials are always impressed with the overall plant quality, and much of the credit goes to Sawaya, with guidance from his dad, longtime industry consultant Melhem Sawaya, whose weekly travels throughout the province keep him away from the trials for extended periods.

“Thomas is very dependable and is able to work very well with other members of the team here,” said Sant. “He always has a positive attitude and a smile.”

In addition to his experience with the growing components of the industry, Sawaya also has considerable experience with the retail side of things. He worked for three years with Fernlea Flowers in marketing and sales for its spring program.

Jeremy van Koevering is the head grower at Spring Valley Gardens in St. Catharines, Ont.

He started at the family greenhouse right out of high school.

His is a life-long passion for plants. “Since his first day on the job, he has continually shown great interest in not just growing plants, but in finding the best way possible to grow the best product,” said consultant Melhem Sawaya of Focus Greenhouse Management.

Van Koeveringe is continually working to find plant material that is going to perform well in the greenhouse, has great consumer appeal at retail, and that is going to have especially strong and reliable garden performance for consumers.

Over the years, more and more of the growing responsibilities have been handed over to him to the point where he is now taking greater responsibility for growing the crops in addition to coming up with new programs for customers, all with the support and co-operation of the rest of the Spring Valley Gardens team.

He is an exceptionally talented horticulturist with a great gift for maintaining excellent quality throughout the crop cycle.

As head grower, he manages production schedules and plant material purchasing, and is a natural team leader in working with co-workers.

“I’ve always said that if you have a person willing to work hard and enthusiastically, and who applies common sense to any problem, they will be successful, and Jeremy is all of that,” said Sawaya.

In 2010, Greg Yuristy went back to the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Guelph to complete a masters degree under the guidance of Dr. Youbin Zheng.

Yuristy’s primary focus of research was the development of green roof growing substrates, but he quickly demonstrated an affinity for all things green roof related.

He finished his masters and subsequent research associate work with two patents under his belt. One patent detailed a new method of greenhouse-based, green roof pre-vegetated mat plant production, while the other was for a new delivery system of green roofing substrate, filter fabric and drainage layer called a substrate block. Both technologies offer significant improvements over existing green roofing technologies and hold the potential to make green roofs more accessible and affordable.

After his studies at Guelph, Yuristy founded a full-service green roofing company through partnership with Ontario engineering firm Tulloch Engineering and the University of Guelph.

Smart Green Technologies Inc., as the firm is known, quickly purchased a greenhouse property in Prince Edward County in Ontario. The property was the former White Rose perennial production facility and provides five acres of gutter-connect greenhouse space and many acres of hoop houses.

The new mat production method and greenhouse space allows Smart Green Technologies to run five full production cycles per season, growing over a million square feet of pre-vegetated sedum green roof mats per year. This increased production efficiency comes with the added bonus of less water, less nutrient use, less labour and less cost to the consumer.

In 2015, its first full year of operation, Smart Green Technologies is installing about 100,000 square feet of vegetated roofs and waterproofing in southern Ontario. It is also producing an abundance of “mother sedum crop,” with quantities available for sale across North America.

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