SONG's Beginnings and Achievements
At the Northern Nut Growers Annual Meeting in the summer of 1972, Ernie Grimo was appointed to report on the nut growing activity in Ontario for the next NNGA meeting. As part of this job, Grimo then contacted the 25 Canadian NNGA members along with 15 more former members and asked them what they were growing, what success they were having, and finally, if they would like to see an Ontario organization established. The response was overwhelmingly favourable. With this encouragement, Grimo contacted Doug Campbell and Bob Hambleton, two local nut grower enthusiasts, who held an organizational meeting. The first general meeting was called for the fall of 1972. Motions were passed establishing SONG, a constitution was passed and the first election of officers was held. Grimo was elected President, Cedric Larsson was Vice-president, Campbell became the editor of SONG News, the news bulletin of the Association and Bob Hambleton became the first Secretary-treasurer.
During the first winter (1972-3) a plan to encourage research in nut growing and to encourage membership, unfolded. Local heartnuts were obtained and distributed by mail to interested people. Zena Cherry of the Globe and Mail newspaper decided to help SONG's cause and wrote a small piece entitled Sing a Song of Nut Trees. By spring, SONG's membership rose to over 1000 members as heartnuts were distributed across the country. Occasional reports on the progress of the trees kept coming back for more than 30 years.
Other seed distributions occurred as the years followed involving black walnuts from Manitoba in the Canadian prairies and pecans from the most northern end of the commercial pecan range of Missouri and Iowa. Some black walnut participants reported that their prairie adapted black walnuts survived in zone 2 along the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan. The ultra-northern pecans as they became known, have proven to be well adapted to the Southern Ontario climates where they were never grown before and ripen the nuts regularly.
In 1978, Filmore R. Park and Alec C. Jones co-founded the Ottawa Area Chapter of SONG to advance the purpose in Eastern Ontario, which has different growing conditions from the other regions in Ontario. In 1991, the Chapter name was changed to the Eastern Chapter of SONG (ECSONG) to reflect an expanded mandate. Later in a closer association with SONG, to include one treasurer and one newsletter, ECSONG was assigned the membership from the postal area codes beginning with 'K' in the Eastern Ontario region. All SONG and ECSONG members are encouraged to attend meetings of both regions.
In the years that followed there were a number of accomplishments:
- Several nut nurseries were established.
- An endless number of seedling and grafted nut trees were planted of all of the nut producing species.
- A host of new selections and cultivars were tested in literally all of the nut tree species that were hardy for at least some part of Ontario.
- A number of nut groves were developed on public lands.
- Experimental plantings of heartnuts, sweet chestnuts and hazelnuts were established at the Simcoe Experimental Station, yielding data on hardiness, production and new selections.
- By the early 90's it could be seen that at least 3 of the nut species could be grown commercially in Ontario and a number of growers established acreages of heartnut, sweet chestnut and hazelnut successfully.
- In the early years, a nut growing manual was written for members of ECSONG and a separate manual was written for SONG. The first SONG manual was written by John Gordon called Nut Growing Ontario Style and the current one by Ernie Grimo called Nut Tree Ontario, A Practical Guide. The manuals were given free to new members when they took out a 3 year membership.
- A heartnut cookbook called Nuts About Heartnut Cooking was co-written by Ernie Grimo and Chef Robert Smith. This was the first cookbook dedicated to the heartnut.
- Several attempts were made to produce a nut cracker to crack improved cultivars of heartnuts, most recently by engineers from Niagara college.
- SONG also encouraged and supported the establishment of 3 new Canadian nut growing associations. The first was the Club de Producteurs de noix comestibles du Québec in 2008 , followed by the Ontario Hazelnut Association in 2009, our first commercial grower's group, and thirdly by the Maritime Nut Growers Association on the East coast in 2013.
- Ferrero Rocher, a world famous producer of hazelnut confections, established a plant in Brantford Ontario in 2006. Ferrero has been supporting the OHA in establishing hazelnut orchards in various parts of Ontario to test new cultivars for commercial production. If successful, it is expected that at least 5000 acres of commercial hazelnut cultivars would be planted in the near future, rivalling the fruit and wine growing acreages.
- Hazelnut growing and testing research projects have developed to include PEI, Nebraska, Quebec, Ontario, Wisconsin and Minnesota and others to test northern hardier cultivars.
- The native black walnut trees growing wild across Southern Ontario and Southern Quebec have largely been neglected as a source of food, mainly because the walnuts are difficult to clean and crack without equipment. On a small scale, the Grimo Nut Nursery has been collecting, processing and marketing black walnut meats and shells in an effort to demonstrate that a commercial black walnut industry is possible in Ontario, just as it is in Stockton, Missouri.
We thank SONG/ECSONG members past and present, for their support over the years to make all of the above a reality. Without their support much of this would not have happened.
The future of nut growing looks bright for Ontario and eastern North America. As new hardier selections continue to evolve, we foresee commercial nut groves in extensive areas of the tobacco belt, the Niagara Peninsula, Southwestern Ontario and the Georgian Bay region. Nut processing stations will dot the landscape and Southern Ontario will be as famous for nuts as it is for other crops.