Support for CK tomato stand turns into good deeds across Southwestern Ontario

Tomatoes from Platinum Produce handed out in Shrewsbury (Photo via Come Together CK Facebook)

What started as support for a Chatham-Kent greenhouse is growing into support for people across the region.

With a surplus of tomatoes to offload, Platinum Produce on Communication Road between Blenheim and Chatham decided to sell the tomatoes at their roadside stand for $5 a flat.

On April 26, Bonnie Verbeek, whose husband owns the greenhouse along with her father-in-law, made a Facebook post about the offer and shared some of the struggles that the business is currently facing. Only expecting to sell a few skids of tomatoes, Verbeek quickly learned just how powerful social media can be.

The post soon went viral, reaching tens of thousands of people within a day. The morning after the post went up, 480 flats had already been sold.

According to Verbeek, people came from across Southwestern Ontario to support the business, with lineups forming around the property. Verbeek said the last week has been a complete whirlwind.

“It took off,” she exclaimed. “I think it’s safe to say it literally blew up. On Tuesday, we lost track of how many people came through.”

However, Verbeek said the family quickly realized that what was happening was about more than people just getting a great deal on tomatoes, it was about supporting the community.

“I’d say a good 90 per cent of them aren’t just people who are buying them for themselves but they’re buying them to take to their neighbors, to take to elderly who aren’t able to leave their homes, to take and donate to charitable organizations in their communities,” Verbeek explained. “That is something that I’ll admit, wasn’t even our vision.”

One of the most touching and stand-out moments so far for Verbeek was when a 12-year-old girl, Bryanna, came to the stand with her father.

The pair made the trek down from Brantford to visit the stand. According to Verbeek, Bryanna pulled out $95 dollars from her wallet and asked to buy as many tomatoes as she could with the money.

Verbeek later learned what she was planning to do with her purchase.

“Bryanna raises her own money on a Facebook page, selling items she makes,” Verbeek explained. “Then she uses her own money to go out and buy food for a neighbourhood pantry that she does. All of this food is given to people in her community.”

12-year-old Bryanna purchases tomatoes from Platinum Produce (Photo via Platinum Produce Facebook)

12-year-old Bryanna purchases tomatoes from Platinum Produce (Photo via Platinum Produce Facebook)

In another touching moment, a Chatham citizen put out an offer to buy any tomatoes that someone would be willing to put in the work and share with their neighbours. A Shrewsbury resident accepted the offer and picked up 600 tomatoes to hand out around the village on a golf cart before running out halfway through the community.

Although Verbeek and her husband Tim intended to take a day to rest on Sunday, they heard the Shrewsbury residents needed more tomatoes and stepped up to deliver 900 more tomatoes that were handed out on the golf cart.

“That’s been a very common thing happening throughout this all is that people are purchasing and then just donating,” said Verbeek.

The business was left with such a large surplus of tomatoes as a result of restaurants being closed because of the pandemic, resulting in a huge loss in demand for the product.

Verbeek said an increase in tomatoes being brought in from outside of the province has also made it harder for local greenhouses to get their produce into local stores. Verbeek’s family decided to sell the tomatoes at a reduced cost instead of tossing them in the trash, where they would otherwise be headed for.

Although they aren’t making a profit, Verbeek said the impact is far bigger than they ever imagined.

However, Verbeek, who is originally from California and has been living in Chatham-Kent for eight years, said she’s not surprised by what’s been happening.

“At $5 dollars a flat, it’s a pretty large loss for our business on each flat. But what we’re gaining in return, it’s unbelievable,” she said. “I’ve never doubted the generosity from the community but this just took it to another new level.”

Despite selling a large amount of product so far, Verbeek said they still have a lot left to get through.