Fermes V. Forino et fils : le désir d’innover
For over 50 years, Vincent Forino has been farming in the Montérégie Region, specifically at Saint-Patrice de Sherrington, one of Quebec’s most beautiful produce growing areas. Vincent, who initially only grew radishes and carrots, now produces a wide variety of crops. In fact, such a diverse range of products from one grower is rare.
The Long Voyage
Seeking to experience the American dream, Vincent Forino emigrated from his native Italy to Quebec in 1952. Arriving with 50 dollars in his pocket, he worked night and day to succeed. It’s only when he was hired by produce growers that he was struck with his passion for agriculture. He did not hesitate to buy his first plot in 1958 and, after marrying Maria Notaro, added three more acres.
Today, Fermes V. Forino et fils own not 3 but 275 acres. The Forino Farms’ now mainly grow multiple varieties of lettuce: green, red, curly, Boston, Romaine, escarole and chicory—a total of 7 million heads of lettuce a year. They also grow celery, carrots, radishes, bok choy and petsai. All lettuce and celery seedlings are started in the operation's greenhouses then transplanted to the field, making it possible to produce up to three harvests over the summer.
The New Generation
Since 1995, three of the couple’s nine children share management of the family business. Carmen is in charge of sales, marketing and quality assurance. Joseph oversees soils, growing and innovation. Denis heads up human resources, logistics and exports. "In our twenties, we had to be proactive in meeting the many challenges of taking the reins of this business that we saw was filled with potential,” explains with passion Carmen Forino. Indeed, running a produce farm requires far more than just knowing how to plant lettuce and keeping it watered.
It’s hard work that demands skills in engineering, mechanics, management, marketing and agronomy as well as a fair dose of leadership. In a family business, each child has his own strengths and fields of expertise; it’s just a question of putting all the right parts together to create a smooth-running operation.
But don’t think for a minute that papa Forino has retired. Despite his 76 years of age, he is never far away, driving a tractor or supervising an employee's work. During high season, the farms’ operations require no less than 50 workers. Among these, 34 come from Guatemala or Mexico and live at the farm all summer. "Luckily, Italian and French are very close to Spanish, so it wasn’t too difficult to learn to communicate and even joke around with our workers,” comments Carmen Forino.
Priorities Focussed on Innovation
Fermes V. Forino has always afforded major importance to innovation. Vincent and his children have pioneered many agricultural techniques. From draining muck soil when there is too much water to implementing irrigation when there is too little, to building greenhouses, no effort is too great when it comes to improving the farms’ installations. Therefore, new technology began to be introduced ever since the 70’s to ensure maximum production quality. Subsequently, maximum freshness was achieved with the construction of refrigerated warehouses and the purchase of a new vacuum cooler to accelerate lettuce pre-cooling.
Machinery also went through its lot of technological advances. "On a produce farm, equipment innovation is on-going. Some equipment must be adapted to a specific crop or type of earth. Research and development also take place in a country garage,” Carmen likes to point out. You have to understand that technology makes the work much easier. For example, by integrating a GPS into your tractor, it can practically drive itself and makes very straight furrows. But the greatest Forino family achievement is undoubtedly its design of a machine capable of cutting, washing and packaging celery right in the field. Hard to get any fresher than that!
Social and Environmental Awareness
Generosity is a quality that totally characterizes the Forinos who are always ready to contribute to a good cause. Last year, they were actively involved in the “Drive Away Hunger” campaign, offering lodging and food to the Montérégie volunteers. All this contributed to gathering many tons of commodities for the most deprived inhabitants of rural regions who are too often forgotten.
The Forinos are also active with regard to protecting the environment. Aware of the impact of agricultural activities, they are working with agronomists to change their work methods in an effort to ensure quality crops while providing the earth with the tools to regain its balance. To this end, they are currently experimenting with adding an organic product that should improve soil oxygenation, stimulate crop vitality and develop natural defences, all this, of course, with a view to reducing the use of chemicals.
More than Growers
Today, Fermes V. Forino et fils are much more than just vegetable farms; they have become ambassadors of Quebec’s quality produce. The Forino company, who sells under its brand names, i.e. FVF, Classic Garden, Royal and Forino Produce, exports to the U.S. not only the produce it grows but also that of other farms in an effort to provide as wide a range of products as possible. This is yet another effective way to promote our beautiful province to the world.