Eighty-five years after Burt Clifford founded one of southwestern Ontario’s early produce supply companies, Clifford Produce Sales Inc. has closed, its grower owners parting ways.

Canada’s Dispute Resolution Corp. expelled the Ruthven-based company, effective April 17, “for not meeting its debts as they came due,” according to the expulsion notice. Numerous sources in the nearby Leamington and Kingsville greenhouse vegetable industry confirmed Clifford was closed as of April 7.

Regardless where sellers are based, there is no special protection for them in Canada such as the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act provides in the U.S., said George Gilvesy, general manager of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Association, Leamington.

“I’m no expert, but it is my understanding they are regular creditors like everyone else,” Gilvesy said, describing Clifford as a grower-owned marketer.

Four other companies in the greenhouse-dense area are reportedly already marketing the current crop of vegetables from the growers who made up Clifford Produce. None of those companies responded to requests for comment.

Although the Clifford Produce phone line and website — www.cliffordproduce.com — were still active as of April 23, no one at the company responded to calls and e-mails seeking comment.

Ontario produce marketer closes after 85 yearsThe DRC’s expulsion notice listed “responsibly connected parties” as Lake Erie Management Inc., Angelo Mastronardi (director), David Mastronardi (director), Gerry Mastronardi (president), Guy Totaro (treasurer), Jake Klassen (director) and Steve Mastronardi (secretary).

“(DRC) Members should always check with the DRC office about any potential implications of possible business relationships with individuals who have been responsibly connected to members who have been terminated or expelled from the DRC,” according to the expulsion notice.

According to the DRC’s rules, if any of the responsibly connected parties want to work for another produce company, they must post an employment bond of $50,000 to $100,000. The bond can be held by DRC for up to 3 years and 9 months. If those individuals want to start a new company, a corporate bond based on debts, income potential and other factors is determined on a case-by-case basis.

Fred Webber, executive director and chief operating officer of the DRC, agreed with Gilvesy’s assessment of produce sellers’ ability to recover money from any company that files for bankruptcy. He stressed that he does not have any information indicating Clifford Produce is bankrupt.

“A trustee would look at the list of creditors and any special circumstances,” Webber said, “but there is no trust like PACA provides in the U.S.”

Having begun as a produce supplier in 1929 with Burt Clifford at the helm, the company evolved into a group of 10 grower-owners when the founder retired in 1976, according to the company website. That same year the company began marketing under the Paysanne brand as well as the Clifford Produce banner.

In 2005 the company name was updated to its current form from the previous Clifford Produce Co., but ownership did not change. Ten more growers joined Clifford in April 2009, bringing the total to 20.

As of April 23, 15 growers were pictured on the Clifford Produce website along with the commodities they grow. They are:

 • Domenic Cristofari, mini cucumbers and peppers;

 • Ercole DiMenna, cucumbers;

 • John DiPietro, cucumbers;

 • Alfredo and Tony Gualitieri, beefsteak tomatoes and peppers;

 • Jake Klassen, cucumbers and eggplant;

 • Angelo Mastronardi, tomatoes on the vine;

 • Dave and Luca Mastronardi, English cucumbers and mini cucumbers;

 • Steve Mastronadri, beefsteak and tomatoes on the vine;

 • Jimmy Simoni, beefsteak tomatoes;

 • Guy Totaro, cucumbers;

 • Reno Vespa, tomatoes on the vine; and

 • Dale and Curtis Williams, English seedless cucumbers.