Verner Toews

(1937 - 2023)

Inducted in 2024

Origin: Essex County

Nominated by: Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Association

Specialty: Crops, Crops - Vegetables, Horticulture

In the early 1960s, shortly after graduating from the University of Guelph with a degree in horticulture, Verner Toews, along with his mother and father, constructed a greenhouse in the Leamington area at a time when the Ontario greenhouse vegetable sector was just beginning. Over the next number of years, the Toews farming operation also expanded in the outdoor agricultural sector, where they eventually came to grow several hundred acres of field tomatoes, which was then Ontario’s largest tomato acreage. The increasing scale of these operations prompted Vern to become the first Ontario tomato grower to research the viability of mechanical harvesting, which resulted in him bringing the first mechanical tomato harvester into Ontario in 1964.

He quickly became involved in the politics and economics of Ontario agriculture, first as the chair of the Essex County Associated Growers. In this role, he was instrumental in leading negotiations with the Tariff Board of Canada to update the tariff structure for greenhouse growers to facilitate product sales into US markets. He was also the founding president of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers that enabled the growers to regulate pricing so that they received a fair price for their products.

Vern also served as chair of the Labour Committee of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA) where he was instrumental in the development of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. This program continues to benefit Ontario growers of many commodities today as they endeavour to meet their labour requirements.

As a three-time director and chair of the Essex County Associated Growers and a multi-term director and chair of the Sun Parlour Greenhouse Growers’ Cooperative, Vern travelled the province of Ontario promoting the benefits of greenhouse grown produce. These efforts helped in the exponential growth of the impressive Ontario greenhouse sector over the past 60 years.

In addition to these far-reaching accomplishments, Vern was a leader in the development of accessible food programs for underprivileged and food insecure families. His work with the Southwestern Ontario Gleaners and The Leamington Food Hub has resulted in millions of pounds of food collected and donated, undoubtedly fortifying the relationship between Ontario agriculture and Ontario communities. In fact, it was only two years ago he was the founding chair of The Leamington Food Hub, which not only supplies 25,000 food servings per day to hungry people, but is one of the only charities supplying fresh greenhouse and other produce to First Nations communities.

Vern Toews’ agricultural, business, and philanthropic leadership over these many decades has made him a worthy and welcome addition to the Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame.