Jim DiMenna promises to be better prepared this year when he steps on stage at Calgary’s BMO Centre to become the 87th chairman of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association.
He’s still getting teased for the few words he managed at last spring’s Montreal conference, when he was caught off guard as recipient of The Packer’s Produce Man of the Year award.
DiMenna, president and chief executive officer of JemD International and JD Marketing in Kingsville, Ontario, clearly recalls The Packer publisher Shannon Shuman’s lead-up to the award as he sat eating breakfast, wondering who the winner could be.
Son of Italian immigrants — check. Personable enough to turn strangers into friends in the time it takes to wait in line for coffee — check.
When Shuman mentioned that, as a teen, the winner had built the biggest CB radio tower in Leamington, DiMenna turned to his wife Barbara and said, “That’s me!”
As he stood in front of the 600 delegates, filled with emotion (if not words), he realized how many of them had helped him establish his career.
“When I worked for a produce company, Montreal was our main market,” he said. “They were my first customers, so many people in the room were friends.”
DiMenna began honing his sales skills at the age of 10, pulling a red wagon full of radishes and green onions door to door in Leamington. When he’d sold them all, he gave the money to the farmer who grew them and received 10 to 15 cents for his work.
Produce became his life.
“At one point I drove a fertilizer delivery truck,” he said. “I worked in tobacco for awhile, harvested potatoes … I did it all.”
At 16, the youngest of six children began working full-time at a greenhouse cooperative in Leamington. By 20 he’d worked his way up to salesman.
In 1990, seeing an opportunity to source and sell the area’s produce to the North American market, DiMenna launched JD Marketing, which specializes in greenhouse vegetables.
In 2000, he partnered with a Leamington greenhouse grower group to form JemD International. Eight years later, Agricola El Rosal bought half of JemD, creating what he says was the first Canadian and Mexican-owned greenhouse operation in North America.
JemD plans to sell up to 15 million boxes of hydroponically grown vegetables this year.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d build a company this size, or chair CPMA,” said the avid golfer and wine collector, who travels so much he was only home 100 days last year.
During the past two decades, DiMenna has served in numerous roles at CPMA, and is currently a member of the Produce Traceability Initiative leadership council.
“PTI is really starting to ramp up for 2012,” DiMenna said.
“CPMA needs to be the place members come to get information, and we have to support our members to make sure they’re in compliance and reaching their milestones,” he said.
As for Calgary, DiMenna is happy this year’s spotlight will be on outgoing chairman Tom Byttynen.
It gives him plenty of time to work on his 2013 speech for Toronto where the theme, appropriately enough, will be Fresh Success.