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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Four inducted into the Essex County Hall of Fame


by Sylene Argent

Four long-time contributors to the local agriculture industry were inducted into the Essex County Hall of Fame during a ceremony hosted at the Harrow Agriculture Exhibition Hall last Thursday evening.

  The portraits of Mark Balkwill, Joe Colasanti, Harold Hall, and the late Joe Malenfant are now displayed on the back wall of the Exhibition Hall, where many great contributors continue to be recognized since the annual recognition program began 28-years-ago.

  The Essex-Kent Milk Producers sponsored Balkwill’s nomination into the Essex County Hall of Fame. He was born in 1959 and grew up on the family farm, “HarCliff Dairy Farm,” located on the Arner Townline at Kingsville Road 2. The farm was named after his father and grandfather.

  Balkwill joined 4-H in 1970, and Essex County Junior Farmers in 1980, where he helped to start 4-H member exchanges from across the world. He is also a Past President of the Essex County Federation of Agriculture, where he served as Vice President from 2009-2011 and President from 2012-2014.

  Balkwill operated one of the first free-stall milking barns in Essex County alongside his father, and was a Harrow Fair Board member and director. He also served on many committees and boards throughout the years.

  Throughout his career, Balkwill “has shown a great commitment and dedication to his family,” Hall of Fame rep, Vicky Morrison, said when congratulating Balkwill. “His selfless giving of his time to sit on committees of the various agriculture organizations of Essex County to help promote our area and our agriculture products has served all of Essex County citizens.”

  Balkwill was pleased to be inducted, and join his father in the Essex County Agriculture Hall of Fame.

  He said his mom and dad were not shy in encouraging their children to get out and learn.

  The Town of Kingsville sponsored Colasanti’s nomination into the Essex County Agriculture Hall of Fame.

  Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos introduced Colasanti by the nickname, “Never say no Joe,” who was born in 1933 and grew up on the family farm in Ruthven.

  Colasanti Farms began in 1942, producing vegetables and greenhouse crops, and sales through a small retail stand. 13-years later, the farm expanded to include lemon and orange trees, and specialized in cactus and tropical plants.

  The Colasanti family, Santos said, was an operator of one of the first Kingsville greenhouses, which was built in 1945.

  It was noted one of his significant contributions includes the recognition that agriculture could serve as an economic driver for the community through increased economic development and more so through tourism. Believing agriculture fairs were drawing attention, Colasanti believed there was an opportunity to grow those events.

  Soon after, the Windsor and Essex County Convention Bureau was created and Colasanti sat on its original board, representing agriculture. He was also a founding board member of the Southwest Tourist Association. He has also been on several boards for organizations supporting special causes.

  “The evolution of Colasanti’s Tropical Gardens has shown how agriculture has been an important part of the economy and culture in our region,” Santos said.

  Colasanti appreciated the honour. He said when he was still a student, he hated school, and would rather be out in the field than in the classroom. When asking a guidance counsellor advice, he learned about a new agricultural program offered in Ridgetown. He was later one of the first 20 or so to attend the course.

  He likes to encourage others with his own experience, noting one is just as smart as another, they are just in different ways.

  The Essex County Plowmen’s Association sponsored Hall’s Nomination. Hall of Fame rep Murray McLeod noted Hall was born in 1927 on the family farm in Gesto. He still lives on the farm his parents purchased in 1918.

  He was a dairy farmer, but after selling the herd, he and his sons grew cash crops of corn, wheat, and soybeans.  

  “The Hall Farm was one of the first farms in Essex County to start ridge-till farming in 1985 and then changed to no-till farming in 1990. All of their equipment for this farming practice was purchased through the Essex County Conservation Authority,” McLeod said, noting his sons continue to work the family farm today.

  Hall served on the Essex County Milk Producers board in the 1960s, served as President of the Essex Soil and Crop Improvement Association for two-years, and as President of the Wheat Board for two-years.

  His service to the community also included involvement with the St. John’s Ambulance First Aid Brigade, where he and his wife, Peggy, were first aiders and instructors for over 40-years.

  With the Essex County Plowmen’s Association, Hall first volunteered with the International Plowing Match held in Essex County in 1955 and again as Chairman of Parking for the 1989 International Plowing Match held in Maidstone.

  Hall took some time to describe how far farming has come. At one time, farmers would have to take off an ear of corn at a time, and use a hand device to remove the corn from the husk. Now, a tractor can remove eight to ten rows of corn at a time.

  Joseph Malenfant was recognized posthumously. He was born in 1932 and was raised on the family farm near McGregor. He was introduced by Gary Struhar, who noted when he was 16-years-old, he joined his father and brothers in operating the family farm, which raised hogs, and grew corn and soybeans on 950 acres.

  In 1990, they implemented no-tilling, first preparing the land by adding rock chutes. He retired in 2000 and passed away on April 11, 2019.

  Over the years, Malenfant was a director on the Wheat Board and Soybean Board in the mid-1960s. He was a member of the committee who worked to get a grain terminal in Windsor. He was also a former President of the Essex County Farmers Union in Essex.

  “Joe and his brothers planted test plots for soybeans, sharing their results with the Department of Agriculture. Joe was responsible for the testing and monitoring of these test plots and assisted in their harvesting,” Struhar said.

  In their family business, he served as Secretary and Vice-President of F. Malenfant and Sons Ltd.

  In his retirement, Malenfant volunteered for the Essex County Steam & Gas Engine Museum, where he spent time helping to restore and set up steam engines and other pieces of equipment. He was responsible for setting up the tractor building display to preserve local and agricultural farming history.   

  His wife, Cecile, accepted his award, along with his son, Larry, and his daughter, Joanne.

  Larry said a few words on his dad’s behalf.

“Anyone who knows my dad here, the first words he would say would be, ‘what can you say?’” Larry said. “This is a nice honour for him.”

  He said his dad and his brothers took great care of their equipment, and spent the off-season working on their machinery.

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