Lifelong farmer leaves lasting legacy on region


Larry Lamb has never strayed far from the land. Even as a science student and teacher, his heart and mind were looking for ways to make agriculture better in northwestern Ontario.
Larry is looking forward to retirement from farm and business, Purity Seeds Limited, but his career has left a lasting impact on the region, which will benefit farmers long after he hangs up his tractor keys.
Larry comes from a long line of farmers. Both his parents and grandparents were farmers, and when Larry was young, his parents operated a 2,000-laying hen loose-housing egg farm at Maple Grove, about 30 miles east of Toronto, later taking over his grandparent’s beef farm in Raglan, Ontario, and adding a dairy operation to it.
Growing up, he used to sit on the gangway that was used to transport hay and straw into the lofts of the barns. He would sit and dream about equipment that could be invented to make farm work easier and more efficient. Inventive from the start, three of the four pieces of equipment Larry dreamed about were invented and became commonplace in farming.
He continued his life in agriculture at the University of Guelph, achieving an Honour Science Degree in Agriculture with a Specialist in Crop Protection. Under the direction of his professors, he worked at Soil Mapping and Herbicide Research for the Province of Ontario Department of Agriculture.
His life has been full of adventure. At 15 and 16, he travelled throughout North America in a Volkswagen bus. While attending University, Larry joined fellow students for Christian Missionary work near Mexico City. They were introduced to Mexican life in Mexico City and went to the Rockefeller Foundation to listen to locals speak about farming in the mountains. Larry was temporarily dismayed that they were always talking about mice. He later found out that they were speaking in Spanish about Maize, not mice. So, they were actually talking about Corn growing.
Larry was introduced to the Rainy River region in 1967, when he came to Emo as a Summer Assistant Agricultural Representative as a university student. Part of his duties was the 4-H Program, where he used his Ecological Studies to begin Ontario’s first 4-H Club that focussed on caring for the environment. Larry realized the importance of environmental issues long before it became mainstream, completing post graduate courses in Ecological Research Strategies at Queen’s University.
The experience in 1967 made it impossible not to return to the region. Larry began teaching High School biology, math and science in Fort Frances in September 1968, and returned to 4-H. He also supervised the Rainy River Research Group. These high school students studied decapods and copepods and other bottom feeders to determine how far the pollution influences from the papermills carried downstream on the Rainy River.
Always an adventurous spirit, Larry acquired a Cessna-140 airplane, which he used to commute between Fort Frances and summer school at Queen’s.
Unfortunately, a wind gust overtook the little plane one day, and Larry crashed. He couldn’t walk, but was able to crawl out of the wreckage, and log rolled for two hours until he was noticed. The following six hour surgery, 69 day recovery in hospital and the knowledge that of the 12 small plane crashes in the region that year, he was the sole survivor, taught him focus and humility and made him realize that the Lord must have more for him to do in life.
In 1975, Larry married Lillian Kliner, a fellow teacher at Fort Frances High School. They had many happy years together, and Lillian passed away in 1996 after a seven year battle with cancer. During those years, Larry built a cottage and a house and served as Chairman of the Church of the Lutheran Hour. In 1980, Larry purchased the Archie Smith and Gilbert Gillies properties a few miles south of Emo. It was the homestead of Jimmy McQuat, builder of White Otter Castle, an early pioneer in the district. McQuat is revered for introducing asparagus plants and flower varieties to the area. The wooded area where his house and barn stood is still covered by a blanket of iris and asparagus.
In 1981, Larry was pulled back to his farm roots, leaving his teaching position to take up farming and logging full-time.
Around 1984, Larry realized that it was difficult to market locally grown seed, and that a seed cleaning facility was needed, so Purity Seeds Limited was born. It’s still the only commercial seed cleaning plant, authorized by Agriculture Canada, in northwestern Ontario.
His background in academia and teaching are a big part of his business philosophy. During the winter months of Purity Seeds, Larry provided weekly training seminars, with guest lecturers from Ontario, Minnesota, and Manitoba, and he continues to be instrumental in providing seed crop inspection to local seed growers.
Larry made a lifetime commitment and dedication to serve numerous farm organizations at the local, regional, and provincial levels. He helped to establish the Rainy River District Seed Growers Association, serving as President for several years. He was a Regional Director for the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association. As Provincial Director of the OSCIA, Larry promoted northern agriculture by hosting tours for the primarily southern executive. Larry identified many needs that the area; he was instrumental in bringing the Weather Radio Service to northwestern Ontario, which was invaluable in the days before the internet. Larry helped establish the Emo Agricultural Research Station in Emo and attracted $400,000 in Research Grants to the area. Larry was also on the Committee for OSCIA to establish and develop the Ontario Environmental Farm Plan which has become a model across Canada.
Larry also started the Northwestern Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association and served as Chairman for several years. With the NWOSCIA established, he was able to get a regional newspaper started, now known as The North West Link, which is still vital for farmers in the district.
Larry served as President of the Northern Branch of the Ontario Institute of Agrologists for 20 years; and about 15 years as President for the RR District Soil and Crop Improvement Association. He has served on various organizations a total of about 115 association years. A lot of volunteer time, and countless volunteer hours to improve the economic situation for farmers and help make the farm community more diverse and dynamic.
In 1999, Larry married Linda Lawrence from Treherne, Manitoba, and they have enjoyed many years of happiness with family and farm and community activities. Linda’s hours on the farm has helped free up Larry for his countless agricultural pursuits.
In 2002, Larry demonstrated the economic benefits of systematic tile drainage in the Rainy River District to his sceptical neighbours by tiling all of the cultivated acres on his farm. This made Purity Seeds Limited the first farm in the district to be completely tile drained. He then went on to assist farmers in installing tile drainage on their properties by coordinating available grants and bulk purchases of drainage tile.
Larry has been an innovative force for agriculture in Northwestern Ontario. He has been a true leader within the agricultural community and a pioneer within the Rainy River District itself. He has a strong work ethic, passion for agriculture, a willingness to listen, to learn, to teach and to serve.
Purity Seeds Limited is an integral part of the farming community in the Rainy River District. With his background in Soil Science, Pesticide Research and Agrology, Larry has given agronomic advice to farmers for the last 40 years. Larry has been a great advocate of new and emerging crops in the Rainy River District, particularly, soybeans, forage crops for seed, and hemp. Larry introduced a new way of farming other than cattle and pasture and has been a leader in the community.
Larry looks forward to the future, improving soils and crops and in promoting agriculture in northwestern Ontario. Farming is the backbone of the Rainy River District, and Larry is proud to be a part of it.