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Monday, April 22, 2024
Vince Pillitteri honoured for lifetime of work in fruit industry

Founder of NOTL's Seaway Farms says family is reason for all his hard work


“On a farm, there’s always something to eat.”

Vince Pillitteri says he took his father Charles Pillitteri’s words to heart, driving his commitment to farming over the last 60 years.

On Nov. 19, he received the Ontario Produce Marketing Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award for his career with Seaway Farms in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

He says his passion for tending the land was influenced by his father.

“My father started working when he was six years old in Italy. You know what he always said to me? He said, “You know Vince, on a farm, there’s always something to eat.” Because he lived through a couple wars … and he said no matter how bad it gets, there’s always something there (on a farm).”

Pillitteri has been active in Niagara’s tender fruit industry since before 1970, when he opened Seaway Farms with his wife Margaret on a small parcel of land on Lakeshore Road in NOTL.

“We try to get a good product out and meet our commitments. Our word is our bond,” he says.

He says he never expected the lifetime achievement award, but he is “very grateful” to have received the distinction.

“If someone had said to me, 'You know, you’ll die first before you get that award,' I would have said, 'I know I’ll die first. I won’t get that award,' ” Pillitteri says.

At 77, he has continued to persevere through the years. He faced many challenges throughout his career, from rising interest rates to the destruction of his first fruit stand and greenhouse in an electrical fire.

“There were some rough times with interest rates and marketing, and all kinds of goodies. But we survived it all, changed things as we went along, a little bit at a time. Rome wasn’t built in a day,” he says.

But he met each challenge with determination and he continued to grow his business.

After the fire in the 1980s, he rebuilt Seaway Farms with a larger fruit market and a garden centre. He continued to farm strawberries, plums, cherries and peaches and sold fruit to the Toronto Food Terminal.

He eventually joined the Ontario Tender Fruit Marketing Board and the Ontario Produce Marketing Association to further support the industry. It was by attending industry events that he secured relationships with customers like Metro Inc. and Sobeys, which Seaway Farms still supplies today.

And while advancing his business has always been a priority, Pillitteri says family is the most important thing, and the reason for all his hard work over the years.

“If you haven’t got family, you haven’t got much,” he says.

Eileen Pillitteri, one of three children, says she’s learned a lot from her father over the years – and valuing family is the most important. His other two children are Joe Pillitteri and Caroline Martinelli.

“I have learned to assist your neighbour whenever possible, as this is an industry where you want to help your fellow farmers,” she says.

Her dad says he may have had his difference with other growers in the industry but there’s a common thread of respect between them.

“It meant a lot to me because all the people that I have known over the years, they've all helped a lot. And they've all helped the cause, have tried to make it better,” he says of the grower community.

“I have learned to be humble, be quick to help, compete but remain fair, don’t fear change, express gratitude, have an opinion, rise early, work hard, use your talents, and most importantly, value family,” Eileen says.

“These are many life lessons that I hope to carry out with my children and my family as well, thanks to his example,” she adds.

Now, her father says Eileen has taken over operations off the farm. His family spans throughout NOTL with various businesses and wineries in the area.

And this area is unlike any other in the world, Pillitteri says.

“There’s not a better place in the world to live, other than here. I’m being honest. I’ve been all over, and I wouldn’t trade this spot for anywhere in the world. There are good people, there’s four distinct seasons, we’ve got fruit. We’ve got everything that you could possibly want in life,” he says.

“We’re very fortunate to be where we are, and we’re not going anywhere.”

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