In January New Zealand lost one of the best tomato growers in the country. Sadly Jeff van Rijen lost his battle to cancer. My sincere condolences go to all of Jeff’s family.
The Photo to the Right shows Jeff (on the right) with his brother Frank.
If you did not have the pleasure of knowing Jeff I can tell you that he was not just a great grower but a great decent kiwi bloke. Cancer has robbed us of one of the good guys at such a young age. He was committed to his work but first and foremost he was a family man.
I was introduced to Jeff by Matthew Heller (a former tomato grower) when Jeff was still a teenager. My mentor at the time, Bryan Hart, along with Mathew allowed me to join a crop discussion group with the van Rijens. In reflection joining the crop discussion group was one of the most important factors to aid my development in the tomato growing industry. I was very fresh and I do remember being lost quite often in the early days with the technical jargon. Tony van Rijen, Jeff’s father, was brilliant and I would invariably pick things up from him every time we met. For Jeff as a teenager I suspect it was also good to have someone not too much older than him in the group.
In the late 90’s we started visiting 3-4 times a year, we generally did this from autumn to spring as summer was always too busy. We would take turns travelling to and from Hamilton to visit Tony and Jeff. Over the years we continued to keep our visits up, when Matthew retired and Tony semi-retired Jeff and I continued to visit each other. When I started working for Gellert Nurseries we continued to visit each other, we even started visiting Great Lakes in the Taupo district together.
I will fondly remember all our car trips together. One thing we had in common was tomatoes, we could talk from Hamilton to Taupo and then from Taupo back to Hamilton about tomatoes! When we were in the greenhouse we would talk about tomatoes! It was not for one minute boring and I will miss those car rides and the crop walks immensely. We played golf together a few times; I remember playing 18 holes of golf and all we did was talk about tomatoes and his poor putting! I also had the pleasure of dining with Jeff at numerous tomato functions and events over the past 15 years. Jeff had a great eye for growing which he learnt from his father Tony. Jeff could read plants and understand, by sight, what was happening at different times to his crop. Together with his dad Tony and brother Frank, the Van Rijens have always been the highest winter producers of tomatoes per m2 I know. They are a huge part of the modernisation of tomato growing in New Zealand. They were the pioneers in growing in rock wool in NZ, they were one of the first to grow grafted plants and then advanced 60cm flowering plants from the nursery, and if we did not get it 100% right Jeff would let me know as he wanted to keep me on my toes!
Jeff also loved his greenhouse toys and would love showing them off, he was especially proud of his roof washer and his plant removal equipment.
We have lost an innovative bright brilliant grower who just happened to be a great guy. I will miss you and our friendship we have had over the past 15 years. Rest in peace.