If a special century farm status could be created specifically for tobacco farm families, Quinton DeDecker’s family would qualify.
DeDecker, 27, is the fourth generation growing tobacco on DeDecker Farms, the family farmstead on Brantford Road near Delhi. Both sides of his family worked in tobacco; first as labourers, share growers and then on their own farms after immigrating to Canada in the 1920s -- the same period that flue-cured tobacco production took hold in Norfolk County.
It’s a vocational pattern of the past 90 years that is entrenched in Norfolk’s tobacco culture, and embodies the notion amongst these families that farming is indeed “in the blood”.
DeDecker’s parents, Paula and Noel, knew that among their three children, he was the child who’d farm while he was still in diapers.
Paula said about her firstborn: “He made tractor noises as soon as he was born. He didn’t cry – he made tractor noises.” There was also the toddler’s first toy tractor – a John Deere with a yellow wagon. “It was easy to find Quinton as he rode it constantly all day long.”
When asked about why he farms, DeDecker grinned and rubbed the head of his German shepherd “shadow”, Lexi, “I love it!”
As for how his family remained in tobacco in spite of volatile markets which drove hundreds of farmers out of tobacco during the late 20th century and early 2000s, DeDecker replied, “Just sheer determination.”
Indeed, DeDecker said that all of his friends, farm. When he denied having any hobbies, his mother stated that he previously built his own toy farm equipment. Since then, his creative side morphed into building or improving the farm’s equipment, from cultivators, spray booms and the grading line.
DeDecker demonstrates a mechanical bent, which developed in part from an influential co-operative student placement at Jacobs Greenhouses Manufacturing during his Delhi District High School days.
After graduating from the University of Guelph’s Ridgetown Campus with a Diploma in Agriculture around 2013, Quinton spent a year in Western Canada and the USA, where he ran combines from Colorado to Alberta for nearly four months. In 2015, he joined a harvest crew near Mitchell, moving on in 2016 to run a sprayer for a Norwich company.
“By 2017 I was here!” said DeDecker, grinning again. He added that he worked part time on other tobacco farms during his transition to farming full time with his parents.
DeDecker’s own farm, located around the corner from his parents’, has 110 workable acres. His parents’ operation has 190 acres, for a total of 300. The family shares equipment and the labour of 12 off-shore labourers from Trinidad, whom they describe as invaluable.
DeDecker said that their 2022 crop consists of 116 acres of tobacco, with another 180 acres in soybeans, 80 acres of which is his own. He moved away from grain, because “the price for soybeans is strong this year.” But he plants rye as a cover crop for the beans.
The family grows some onions and garlic which they cure in a bulk kiln prior to selling farm gate.
This youth experimented with small vegetable acreages in recent years; this spring he tried 16 acres of asparagus on rented land.
DeDecker sold the asparagus to a Delhi –area packer, adding that “it was worth it.” Samples also went to a popular Tillsonburg restaurant for soup and to sell.
DeDecker’s heritage fits the classic pedigree of many long-time Norfolk tobacco families descended from Central and Eastern European stock who sailed to Canada for ”a better life” – which involved owning one’s farm.
These agrarian immigrants began arriving during the 1920s. Many of them initially settled outside of Norfolk, working as factory labourers, or on farms elsewhere in South-western Ontario, or even the Canadian prairies. They eventually migrated towards the fledgling Tobacco Belt, where word had it that one could buy a farm cheap and make good money growing the “green gold.”
This pattern runs in both sides of DeDecker’s ancestry.
His maternal, Polish great-grandparents, Mike Bozek, laboured in the Hamilton steel mills while he wife, Stella, worked in a restaurant, until the Depression forced Mike to ride his bicycle to seek work in Norfolk.
Bozek worked as a labourer and then as a share grower at the former Windham Plantation –one of several corporate tobacco farm agglomerations at the time. The Bozeks settled on their own freehold farm near Lynedoch. Similarly, DeDecker’s grandparents, Fred and Mary Bozek, farmed in that area.
The Belgium-born Emiel DeDecker arrived in 1927, settling in the Essex-Kent region where there was a thriving sugar beet industry. Many Belgians had previously immigrated there to work in that crop.
Like many of his peers, this first Canadian DeDecker travelled back and forth between the Wallaceburg-Chatham district and Norfolk to work in both crops, before relocating permanently in Norfolk.
That DeDecker’s son, also named Emiel, settled on the “home farm” on the Brantford Road in 1965. He still lives there.
DeDecker’s maternal grandfather, Gilbert Saman, also grew tobacco nearby.
DeDecker’s younger siblings’ vocations lie elsewhere: Jessica is completing training as an x-ray technician in Sudbury, while Nathan is a carpenter in Norwich.