Her lifelong commitment to agriculture has earned Elmira’s Ellen Sparry the Honorary Life Award from the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association.
Sparry, the general manager at C&M Seeds in Palmerston, was recognized for her contributions to the Canadian certified seed industry.
“I felt very excited and surprised, for sure,” said Sparry of the accomplishment. “One never anticipates that kind of thing. It was a great honour. Humbling, excited and surprised – all about in that order. I guess part of it is gratifying to know the goals that I’ve had for my life of hopefully improving the seed industry and improving varieties for growers. The award confirms hopefully that that’s what I’ve done, I suppose.”
Sparry’s interest in agriculture sparked from a very young age, being born and raised on a corn farm in Fergus. She pursued her passion in farming into adulthood by attending the Ontario Agricultural College at the University of Guelph. After graduating, Sparry worked at King Agro in Listowel as a cereal research technician. She worked other roles, including senior research technician followed by assistant breeder.
She eventually joined C&M Seeds in 1994 as a genetics manager, leading the company’s genetics and research program. She was appointed general manager of the company in June 2015. She is also involved in other agricultural-related groups, including the Ontario Cereal Crop Committee, the Wheat Technical Committee and the Canadian Seed Trade Association, in addition to the CSGA.
“Ellen has been working for C&M Seeds for a very long time,” said Carolina Lafontaine, managing director at CSGA. “She has been really good at promoting the use of certified seed in agriculture. And so she was a really clear candidate. She’s produced videos as well with us explaining how certified seed can improve different baking products. So she’s been very gracious with her time in terms of helping us spread messages.”
Sparry was not expecting to win the award.
“You don’t really plan when you’re doing your job that you’re going to get an award,” she said. “This sort of makes me feel like I’m doing the right thing when it comes to improving the seed industry.”
The Honorary Life Award has been a tradition of the association since 1931. It was presented in Montreal at the organization’s 114th annual meeting. This year, there were five award-winners. They can be either in the producers or industry stakeholders. In Sparry’s case, she is considered an industry stakeholder.
Recipients are chosen not only for their contribution to the organization, but also to the seed industry as a whole.
“The recipients are nominated first by our provincial branches – there are branches of our association across the country,” explained Lafontaine. “And they will first nominate to the national office, somebody they feel is deserving. They nominate both people who are producers and then industry stakeholders that have not only contributed to our organization but to the seed industry at large. And then once that’s nominated to our national board, the national board then reviews those nominations and makes a selection based on who they feel are the best candidates.”
The CSGA is a non-profit organization that aims to advance the seed industry. It is the only Canadian organization to monitor and certify pedigreed seeds for all agricultural crops in Canada except for potatoes. For more information, visit Canadian Seed Growers’ Association.