Four generations of farmers; the agricultural lineage of the Van Wingerden Family
Our Family History
Four generations of farmers; the agricultural lineage of the Van Wingerden Family finds its beginning on March 22, 1892 in the little village of Ridderkerk, Netherlands, with the birth of Leendert Van Wingerden. He started with the back breaking work of digging drainage ditches in the polders around the village. Leendert married the daughter of a prosperous flax farmer and together they settled on a small plot of land called ‘de Punt’. Leendert and Aplonia had eleven children; Cornelia, Aart, Geertruide, Jannigje, Leendert, Christine, Cornelis, Jan, Arie, Willem and Abram. Together with oldest son Aart, he implemented new techniques of growing; manure lined cold frame for starting early transplants, use of ‘perspotten’ (soil blocks), rigorous variety selection, and the use of the latest farm equipment. A bountiful harvest of beets, beans, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, lettuce, onions, leek, peas, radishes, spinach, and turnips were produced.
May 1940, the Netherlands was invaded by the Germans having to surrender after four days of resistance. For the Van Wingerden Family life settled into the harsh routines of German occupation. The homestead on the Lagendijk was sequestered by German soldiers, meals had to be shared and blackouts were imposed. Leendert and his family continued to grow vegetables, much needed by the community and the feeding centers. Six days was for work and worry but Sunday was for worship and rest and Aart’s eye caught the lovely vision of Cornelia Huizer sitting on the other side of the church. April 26th 1943 they were married and moved into a tiny little cottage called ‘de Hut’. On land next to ‘de Hut’ Aart grew vegetables, built his first small greenhouse to grow ‘witloef’ (Belgian endive), and tried his hand at curing tobacco. Amid the bleak realities of the occupation; vegetables confiscated at gunpoint, disappearing neighbors, soup kitchens to keep the old and the young alive, the bombardment of Rotterdam visible on the horizon and the nightly rush to the bomb shelter, life was a bittersweet blend of marital bliss, love for tilling the soil, parenthood with the arrival of Aart and Cora’s first son, Leendert on June 22nd 1944 and the world’s great battle to crush fascism.
In the fall of 1944, the Allies attempted to get across the three major rivers in the Netherlands; the Maas, Waal, and Lower Rhine. It was a joint airborne-ground operation which included the famed 101st Airborne ‘Band of Brothers’. After five years of occupation the Allies captured Arnhem in April 1945. The remaining German forces in the Netherlands surrendered on May 4, 1945, over 200,000 Dutch men and women died during the occupation.
Aart wanted a greater vista and turned his eyes toward South Africa, then to the United States of America. He found a sponsor, packed his meager belongings and sailed for America. He arrived May 10, 1948 on the wharf in New York City with wife, three boys, six dollars and big dreams. The first residence was the basement of a church parsonage, two weeks later home was a cleaned up chicken coop with bed sheets hung up for room dividers. June 17, 1948 Aart and Cora’s first daughter and first American child, Arijka Cornelia was born. By the fall it got too cold to stay in the chicken coop so the family moved to Hopper Street in Paterson, NJ. Aart, together with his father and family who had come to America in early spring of 1949, rented a farm on the corner of Valley Road and Preakness Avenue, the two families moved into the farmhouse and started farming for the first time in the New World. October 1, 1949 Aart connected with his cousin Aart den Hoed and the two families purchased a bankrupt dairy farm in New Egypt, New Jersey. The locals claimed the farm had an eerie curse hovering over it, two of the former owners had hung themselves in the cow barn and flooding of the fields was pervasive. This posed no problem for two young Dutch farmers who had worked the fields of the polders below sea level in the old country. They built the required drainage swales, put in a levee on the upper elevation of the farm, bought a herd of dairy cows and Aart VW got restless; his love was horticulture (the science and art of growing fruits, vegetables, flowers and ornamental plants) not animal husbandry. So out came the boxes and the suitcases on April 1, 1950, a move to Mountain View, New Jersey took place. Renting farm land and doing landscape work occupied the family for three years.
1953- A drive down Jacksonville Road toward Untermeyer Lake, across from the Lincoln Park airfield laid 80 acres of rich, black muck land, but partly submerged under water. The owner wanted to sell and the Van Wingerden Family wanted to buy, seeing again an opportunity to put their native skills of water management to work. Aart built his first house and the family, now eight children, moved to 208 Jacksonville Road, Pompton Plains, NJ in April 1953. Building cold frames and perfecting the soil block method of growing transplants for the fields, Aart continued to hone his horticultural skills.
Opa (grandfather) Van Wingerden built 206 Jacksonville Road, followed by sons Cornelis, Arie, Jan, Willem, Abram and sons-in-law Johannes Van Vugt and Cor de Groot.
1955 a milestone year! The first flowering plants were produced and despite many setbacks, challenges, successes and failures Aart and family embraced with passion the science and art of growing ornamentals. The first poly greenhouses, dozen soil blocks wrapped in foil (first consumer pack of plants), large shipping boxes placed on trucks by forklift, direct sowing by machine, and by 1960 running out of land to build more greenhouses came the big decision to leave the family compound and buy a large farm in Allentown, NJ. Aart sold his parcel to Abe, his youngest brother.
Today the sons and grandsons of Leendert Van Wingerden still operate plant growing operations at the original Van Wingerden Family homestead, the operations have been expanded, modernized and handed down from father to son. Take a drive down Farm Road and first to the left will be Abe, to the right, next farm over Vugt/Deerfield, down the road on your left, Bill with sons, to the right, brothers de Groet, to the left Arie van Vugt with Plainview Growers, and further down on the right, Joe van Vugt with sons, and where Farm Road turns Orie with son Alan. Two operations on Jacksonville Road, past Abe’s place belong to a son and son-in-law; ten thriving horticultural businesses find their origins going back to March 22, 1892.
Allentown, NJ – July 1960 – Aart and Cora, now with thirteen children, established Kube Pak Corporation. Double layered poly greenhouses, plastic paks, plastic flats, automated equipment, gutter connected structures, fall crop of greenhouse tomatoes, all find their source in the innovative mind of Aart. In the summer of 1961 Aart went to visit the Netherlands, the world leader in horticulture. He felt compelled to go back and be part of the leading edge of crop protection structures, heating systems, equipment development, and growing regiments. Kube Pak was sold to Fred and Bernie Swanekamp and in July of 1963 Aart, Cora and fourteen children moved to Waddinxveen, the Netherlands. Land was purchased on ‘de Zesde Tochtweg, an innovative greenhouse structure was built along with an internal movable table system, son Len was called into the Dutch army and by winter of 1965 the more regulated economy and socialistic leanings of Dutch society had taken their toll on the freedom loving maverick and Aart moved his family back to Allentown to expand and implement the newest techniques from Holland with the Swanekamps.
On June 1966 Aart moved back to Waddinxveen bought land on the Twede Bloksweg and built the latest design in crop protection structures with higher light levels, new internal plant movement systems and energy conserving hot water heating systems. Son Neil went off to the army, Son Tom married, took over the operation and Aart packed up wife and children, now totaling sixteen and moved to Carpinteria, California along with five brothers and their families also with the last name being Van Wingerden (but no relation). A large lemon orchard was purchased and three horticultural businesses were established, two growing cut flowers and one annuals and perennials. California was good, real good, beautiful landscape, weather designed for flowers and growing and a state of mind like no other place.
Success was added to success and Aart knew the Bible story of the rich man’s land that produced plentifully, whose barns overflowed and he said, “I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grains and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” BUT God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” Aart talked it over with his wife, started a non-profit organization called Double Harvest to go to third world countries to develop agricultural projects focusing on modern, profitable vegetable production and bring the good news of the Gospel. The Carpinteria operation was sold to Perry Plants, a venerable plant growing operation with multiple locations in the West.
In the summer of 1968 Len and John moved to Ohio to start Great Lakes Growers. Tom, Neil and Maryka lived and worked in Holland. Aart and Cora with eleven children in tow moved to Indonesia to start the first Double Harvest project. The Family settled in the city of Bandong and spent a couple of months reconnoitering the surrounding area coming upon a large dairy project in the village of Lembang. The project had been developed by the Roman Catholic Church and the Dutch government. A small convent had been established with housing for the monsignor and worker families but sadly the farm was in disrepair and never operated to its potential. Aart and the monsignor became friends and put together a takeover and purchase of the property. Aart moved his family to the farm, diagnosed the underlying cause for the poor growth of feed stock for the cows and solved the problem by opening up an abandoned lime pit and spreading the right amount of the special lime on the fields. The transformation was amazing, the grass grew tall and lush, the milk production soared, and the benefits of viable, productive agriculture was evident in the surrounding area. But Cora became seriously ill, requiring a move back to the States so in February of 1969 leaving the Double Harvest project in the capable hands of Ejar Kilgar the family left for Oberlin, Ohio to join Len and John.
The first Veno type double poly greenhouses were constructed, a cart transportation system was utilized, inside docks for loading plants on specially designed trailers was put into place and rapid expansion was the order of the day. Len and John acquired the entire business in 1970 and Aart did a short stint in the Netherlands again. In November of 1971 Aart and family moved to Granville, Illinois and started Mid American Growers in the rich prairie soils of the Midwest. Van Wingerden Greenhouse Company was also started there in part due to requests from other growers for the economical and energy efficient VW designed greenhouses. The four married children in Holland, Tom, Neil, Maryka, and Lona came over and worked for the Old Man as he was affectionately and respectfully known by his family. In short order Tom and Vicki moved to Huntersville, NC and started Metrolina Greenhouses, Neil and JoAnn started Heartland Growers in Indiana. Joe married and moved to Stevensburg, Virginia to build a place, Nick and Arie bought Mid American Growers.
In 1973 Aart moved to Fletcher, NC to build Van Wingerden International and further expand the greenhouse construction business by adding heating systems, curtains, benching and supplies. With business thriving it was time to focus on Double Harvest. A trip was made to Honduras and a vegetable growing project was undertaken. A couple from Santa Barbara moved on location, some of the sons helped out and the project was given to a mission organization. In 1977 the first of a series of trips were made to Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and in 1978 Aart moved to Haiti to undertake Operation Double Harvest Haiti. Today, thirty years later, Double Harvest Haiti is comprised of a 160 acre farm for grain and vegetable production, primary Christian school for 400 students, vocational school, first class clinic with operating rooms and recovery center, house building in the nearby villages and bringing in potable water to the towns around the project. Double Harvest is supported and operated by Aart and Cora’s children and many friends of the family.
In 1987 Aart visited Ethiopia, Zaire, and Kenya, an ‘adopt a garden’ concept was developed, using a bucket and fifty/hundred feet of drip tape. Small home gardens can be quickly put into place to help feed families in areas with lengthy dry spells. This program was first trialed at Nyankunde Hospital in eastern Congo. The program fitted well with the needs of families who would bring their loved ones in for medical care to the hospital and are required to provide meals for the patient. Many needed to stay for extended periods of recovery providing time to grow vegetables. A greenhouse was built, transplants raised and garden tools and growing tips provided for the people to grow their own vegetables.
In February 1990 Aart and Cora moved to Ethiopia to jump start a project of vegetable growing in Debre Zeite. Working at Kuriftu, property belonging to the Kale Heywet Church, Aart brought in greenhouses, farm equipment, plug trays, irrigation and filtration systems, backhoe, tractor, shop tools, welder, and more, turning the dormant volcano crater into a lush and productive farm. Gert Van Putten, one of Europe’s preeminent poultry farmers joined Aart, bringing with him the determination to establish the best in animal husbandry and profitable agriculture. During a medical exam in November of 1991 Aart was diagnosed with incurable cancer and had about six months to live. Aart and Cora went back to Kuriftu for the last time in 1992. His children and grandchildren have continued the work of Double Harvest in Africa and today the project in Ethiopia encompasses Genesis Farms, a large multifaceted agricultural enterprise with over 100 acres of year-round vegetable production, parent stock for egg laying chickens, hatchery, 50,000 egg layers, 120 cows, milk processing plant, large modern farm store and employs over 400 people. Genesis Farms supports five rural evangelist/church planters and builds one/two rural church buildings each year. The farm also provides food for feeding programs for the needy. There are ongoing Double Harvest projects initiated by the Family in Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Congo, Sudan, Venezuela, and South Africa.
Van Wingerden International in Fletcher, NC became Aart and Cora’s home base and over time the sons and daughters peeled off to do what the Old Man did so well – start horticultural ventures. Arie sold his part to Nick and moved to Pipersville, PA to begin East Coast Growers then sold it and moving to Colorado to build Cherry Creek Systems, Richard bought Van Wingerden Greenhouse Company, Len moved to Somers, CT and started Grower Direct Farms, Bob settled in Maryland to start Catoctin Mountain Growers, Willem and Maryka took over South Central Growers in Tennessee when Bill died, Aart and Ken built up Floral Plant Growers in Maryland and Delaware sold it and moved to New Zealand partnered with a grower there and then moved to Paris, KY to start Color Point, Jerry and Lona worked in Haiti for a couple of years and then built Battlefield Farms in Virginia. Grandsons and granddaughters are starting new ventures or taking over.
Aart went to be with his Lord on August 21, 1996 and Cora past into glory on March1,2006. They had sixteen children, 112 grandchildren and 71 great grandchildren and still counting.
Today there are over 30 different agricultural ventures from this linege.