Beyond the Tomatoes in Leamington, Ontario


photo credit: JonathanCohen via photopin cc

It took some time for me to decide on a topic I wanted to blog about next. I initially wanted to highlight the great things the Alumni Association does for us, but then something in the news occurred and my mind shifted elsewhere.

CBCclipI’m from a small community right outside Leamington, Ontario. Usually when I tell people where I’m from they’ll ask where it is or already be aware it’s the Tomato Capital of Canada and in 2006 we were ranked the #1 place to live in Canada. For those of you who still have not heard of the town before, I’m sure you did these past few weeks in the news.

Sure, I never worked at Heinz nor did anyone else in my family, but this affects us all in some way. The entire town was built around the Heinz plant. Our annual Tomato Festival with the Tomato family characters, the big tomato that acts as a tourist information tomatoesarrivingbooth in downtown, and the Heinz arena in the recreation complex to highlight a few main attractions. 740 Heinz employees are out of work but this number does not include the farmers in the area who have supplied tomatoes to create Canada’s favourite ketchup for years and their workers. I was fortunate to have a job at a produce plant as a tomato packer during the summer of my college years. Even though it wasn’t the greatest job in the world, I will always be grateful that it helped me pay for tuition and rent in Hamilton so I was able to get a post secondary education.

bigtomatoI left this town with pride to embark on an advertising education at Mohawk College. I introduced myself and where I was from in first year to new teachers, friends and acquaintances talking about the history behind the town. I left my hometown with excitement and thrill for a new adventure and with the intention of never coming back. Things changed during third year and I realized I wanted something completely different from when I began in first year. Growing up near Leamington and attending school there, you’d hear people chat about how boring the town was and couldn’t wait to escape from it as well as the smell of tomatoes during the season, but the old saying is true – you never know what you have until it’s gone. I know Leamington, Ontario has a lot of potential and I’m not ready to give up on it just yet.

Whether in a year from now I decide to move, my hometown will forever be a part of me, just like Mohawk College and I’ll always wish the best for both.

Lu Ann Pannunzio

– Lu Ann Pannunzio
Advertising ‘12
Follow Lu Ann @teaaholic

2 thoughts on “Beyond the Tomatoes in Leamington, Ontario

  1. As a follow up to Lu Ann’s blog I have to say that while it was disappointing to see Heinz leave it may have been the shock that the community needed to move past the complacency that had built up once a manufacturer and employer has been here for a long time.

    When I first came to Leamington to start my radio career in 1977 Heinz held a much bigger position in the community than what it did in the final days of its tenure. The reason being that other businesses have moved into the area now. A couple of good examples are the Highline mushroom plant (which most people don’t realize employs somewhere around 700 people) and the massive and I mean massive greenhouse industry that has developed in the past 30 years.
    These greenhouse operations mainly produce tomatoes, cucumbers and sweet peppers. If you are reading this in Canada there is a good chance that the produce your grocery store is carrying was grown in this area.
    Also the new owners of the Heinz plant, which is called Highbury Canco, report that significant strides were made in their first tomato production run that ended in October. They already plan on expanding for next season. This plan will include running more tomatoes and making tomato paste again which is key to the base for pasta and bean products.
    Word has it that the lower dollar has sparked interest for additional manufacturing possibilities.

    So it just goes to show that while many saw this town and area as one of those towns that when the major employer leaves the only thing left to do is roll up the sidewalks that wasn’t the case.

    While I can’t deny some people were hurt by Heinz leaving the area, Leamington and Kingsville( where Lu Ann is from) are only changing gears.

    Vic Lehan
    Radio Broadcasting 1977

    • Thank you for your comment, Vic. It’s been one year since Lu Ann wrote this piece and it’s interesting to hear another perspective and an update on how the town is moving forward.

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