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  • Norfolk Farms

Giving Recognition Where Recognition Is Due

Updated: Feb 8

The Waterford Heritage & Agricultural Museum is located in one of Waterford’s historic landmarks, the old Pickle factory. It offers a space where members of the community can get together to learn, create, discuss, socialize and perform.

Left to right, James Christison, Curator Waterford Heritage Agriculture Museum, Nancy Racz and Ernie Racz and Melissa Collver, Director of Heritage and Culture Norfolk County

Since 2014 it has sponsored the Norfolk Agricultural Hall of Fame awards. They “aim to honour the achievements, results, benefits and innovations accrued to agriculture and rural development on a local and/or broader basis as a result of the nominee’s volunteer and paid activities”.

This year’s winners were inducted in a ceremony, held at WHAM, on Sept, 10th. They are the late Irene Anderson, the late Hon. John S. Martin and Kernal Peanuts, Vittoria. Inductees are chosen ‘based on demonstrated achievements, results, benefits and innovations accrued to agriculture and rural development on a local and/or broader basis because of the nominee’s volunteer and paid activities and whether a legacy has been identified’.

James Christison speaking to crowd which included MP Leslie Lewis, MPP Bobbi Ann Brady, Mayor Amy Martin and Councilors Kim Huffman and Councillor Chris Van Passen.

The late Honourable John S. Martin was always fascinated by poultry and after his family moved to a farm in Port Dover he tended to a flock of his own and raised his own chickens.

His hobby soon transitioned into an international business earning him much fame and fortune. Upon acquiring his teaching certificate at Normal College, he returned to his roots in

Port Dover where he soon went from teacher to vice-principal.

As a chicken breeder and teacher there were many late nights and early mornings between the two. When Martin realized his love for his chickens outweighed his desire to teach, he chose early retirement from teaching at just 31 years of age. He then directed all of his focus to his chickens, specifically the White Wyandotte variety.

By 1914, at the age of 39 years, he received international recognition and 1st prize awards for his success in breeding White Wyandottes and even earned him the title of “Wyandotte King of America”. His chicken farm, overlooking Silver Lake, Port Dover, put Norfolk County on the map and his chickens were coveted by breeders around the world.

But Martin also supported his community of Port Dover. He was a member of the Port Dover Masonic Lodge and eventually earned the title of Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Canada. His list of accomplishments also included chair of the Board of Trade, Reeve for Port Dover and, at the age of 48, entered into politics where he represented Norfolk South and then Norfolk in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as a Conservative member from 1923 to 1930 and Minister of Agriculture in those same years.

At only 56 years of age Strickland passed away while in office. He was highly recognized for all that he did for farmers of Ontario and was ‘indeed full of the milk of human kindness’…and so deserving of this award.

Also recognized was the late Irene (Nemeth) Anderson, a farm girl and an artist from an early age. Irene attended Simcoe High School where she acquired her Grade 10 diploma then went onto Simcoe Business College. It was her job at British Knit that would help her develop her art as she was tasked with sketching clothing for the company’s catalog. Co-workers were impressed with her work and encouraged her to apply to the Ontario College of Art.

Although Anderson was accepted to the Ontario College of Art her love for rural life would soon find her returning to the family farm. She soon met and married Don Anderson and they started their own family.

Her artistic skills were influenced by her rural, agricultural background. She loved everything about her farm life and this would be reflected in many of her sketches decades later. 

Her art remained a big part of her life and despite operating her father’s farm and raising six children, she always found time to draw, paint and sketch caricatures. Her cartoons were first published around 1957 in the Tillsonburg News. Soon after Ted Cranston, editor of the Delhi

News Record and the Canadian Tobacco Grower Magazine offered her a freelance job as an official cartoonist. Her strong, to-the-point voice could be ‘heard’ through her satirical cartoons and what could not be printed in the paper could be captured through drawings.

She went on to have a four decade-long career in the media industry.

Anderson also worked in ink, watercolor and oil painting, focusing on the social and technical aspects of tobacco farming along with the multicultural heritage of the area. Many local farmers, companies, associations and tobacco boards commissioned Anderson. These works are highly coveted for their depiction ‘of a time now long-gone in Norfolk County’.

The third recipients for 2023 were Ernie and Irene Racz, owners of Kernal Peanuts Ltd. “We started in tobacco…off the Ark with Noah and the boys…in 1972, with about 50 acres, until about 1986. We started with the peanuts in 1976 on the family farm outside Vittoria and became incorporated in 1982. Dad got a handful of peanuts from the research center in 1976. In 1978 we had about 10 acres of peanuts with 100 acres now but we’ve had as much as 150 acres” adds Racz. 

“We had nothing to go by in the mid ‘70’s but tobacco was going down hill… we saw the writing on the wall. We knew we needed to find an alternative crop. The sandy soil that made the area prosperous for tobacco was also a key element for peanut production…the first crops were largely experimental.” 

Racz added “We wanted to grow food, replace imports, do something not done before and not step on somebody else’s toes”. Also needed was specialized equipment and Racz created many of the pieces from modified tobacco planting and harvesting machinery. The old kilns were transformed into peanut dryers and the strip room became a hand grading station and storage space.

Because of a much shorter growing season here in Canada they couldn’t cut the crop and then leave it drying in the field for about two weeks. Working with researchers they were able to come up with a specialized combine harvester that cuts the plant and separates the shelled peanut in the same operation. The peanuts are then put into drying kilns the same day…reducing crop losses…for about 7 days at a maximum of 90 degrees.

“It’s taken us years to get this down path. It was interesting…you never thought about it you just did it. If you had a problem, you solved it. It’s been a lot of trial and error. The bulk bins worked well but the cost was still too high so it was back to the drawing board and a solution of a wood boiler. We can heat all of the buildings, the house, garage, barn, greenhouse…everything is heated with hot water”.

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