Inducted: November 28, 1990
Ralph Eastman won a reputation as an outstanding horticulturist and fruit grower, and as an innovator who saw the possibilities of wine grape production in Kent County.
Mr. Eastman was born in Sarnia, but moved to the Blenheim area with his parents at the age of two. At 16, he left high school to help his father, Ernest A. Eastman, on the family farm; and was introduced to the produce marketing techniques that were later used to advantage.
The Eastman farm was first worked under a three-way partnership; father and sons, Ralph and Ernest. It became, in 1953, the first Kent County farm to become an incorporated company.
Mr. Eastman bought his brother's share of the business in 1965; and continued first with the help of a son, Donald, who later went into business in Blenheim, and then with a younger son, Allan. At one time, they operated 350 acres and kept beef cattle.
Eventually, that acreage was reduced, the cattle sold, and the Eastmans concentrated on fruit and vegetables.
Mr. Eastman was a pioneer in planting dwarf apple trees, and was the first in Kent to grow the now-popular Mutsu apple. Another pioneering effort for Southwestern Ontario was the planting and growing of hybrid and vinifera grapes in the 1960s and 1970s. A direct outcome of this was the establishment of Charal Wines, only the second Cottage Winery in Ontario to be licensed since prohibition. Charal Wines won many awards against tough international competition.
Mr. Eastman served for several years as a Director of the Western Ontario Fruit Testing Association (W.O.F.T.A.) at the Harrow Research Station. For a decade, he served as a Director or member of the Agriculture Research Institute of Ontario, before retiring in 1984.
Mr. Eastman was a member of the Adverse Weather Loan Committee when William Stewart was the Ontario Minister of Agriculture. He was President of the Kent Fruit Growers' Co-operative and cold storage plant in Blenheim; and helped amalgamate this and the Cedar Springs Cherry Growers to provide a processing plant and "a cold and controlled-atmosphere storage" for cherries, peppers and strawberries.
He was named the Blenheim & District Chamber of Commerce "Agriculturalist of the Year" in 1982; and was the recipient of the coveted Golden Apple Award four years later.