Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Lakshana 'Lucky' Kumarage on building a career after moving from Sri Lanka

Lakshana Kumarage, originally a computer engineer from Sri Lanka, dove into the greenhouse cucumber growing business in Niagara-On-The-Lake over 15 years ago without having any agriculture experience.

Glenn Lowson/The Globe and Mail

Lakshana "Lucky" Kumarage, 53, is the owner of HNL Greenhouse Growers and a co-owner of Four Mile Creek Farms in Ontario's Niagara region.

My nickname comes from people not pronouncing my name; a man in my first office job in Canada in 2001 gave it to me.

I worked in computer technology and management in Sri Lanka, in many companies like Coca-Cola. I thought I could build my future here, my scope [of opportunities] is good. Sri Lanka is a Third World country; there's no scope. When people come here they think they can get the same job, but you have to begin again – start from scratch. We came here in 2000, didn't know anyone. My wife and I stayed in a hotel for two months; all my money went to the hotel. No one would give us an apartment because they wanted references.

Story continues below advertisement

When I looked for jobs, people said my back-home experience wasn't worth anything; they wanted Canadian experience. I got a job distributing newspapers, had to wait in a van as it was so cold. The newspapers were dumped off. I had to sort them, alone, didn't know where to deliver them. I said, "I will never survive here." My wife worked at Wendy's, 6 a.m. to late. In Sri Lanka, she was in banking for 10 years, nearly an executive. It took me almost a year to get a job. A contact suggested a place; I offered to work free for a month, and if they liked my services they could hire me. With my computer and software experience, I made a good system, so they hired me.

A friend asked us to come on a road trip north near Midland. I didn't know where "north" was. We went to a nice place and had barbeque. They said they were going to church, it was close and they wouldn't be long, [but] we went along. We had a little exposure because my wife has Christians in her background. I was Buddhist, a teacher, raised in a temple. My family, history – all Buddhist. I didn't know what to do so I looked around, saw a nice picture of a man wearing a robe carrying children. We had [been trying] to have a child for 10 years. I made a vow [then that] if we got a baby, I would give back to Him. I didn't tell anyone, not even my wife. Weeks later, she was pregnant. I told her what I vowed in the church – she said she did the same.

From then, I said "nothing can go wrong." that was key to my success in life and business. I became a Christian. Our pastor asked us to help an orphanage in Tissamaharama in southern Sri Lanka. We [spent time there] every year. It didn't have electricity, just kerosene. With an agronomist, I built a simple biogas generator, piped to the kitchen for cooking, powered the dormitories. I was not scared – I know Buddhists, I know Christians – but in 2013, Buddhist militants had the orphanage shut. It has [since] re-opened, and we are going back [soon].

My wife could not keep getting time off work to go. We lived in Mississauga; she suggested we move to the countryside, start a business. I looked at greenhouses in 2009. My first question was, "What's a greenhouse?" I stepped into one [in Wainfleet] with English cucumbers, 5,000 plants; it was so big! They were farmers since childhood, generations; I knew nothing. But the greenhouse was on Zion Road, the promised land, so we bought it. We did everything – picking, planting, transporting – working 7 a.m. to dark.

I saw a new site with a big biodigester that had a court-appointed receiver [in Virgil]. I called banks [seeking a loan]; they said I was small fish, no way. In February 2016, this small fish told the judge about my small digester back home; [I] tried to make an offer. After one year of difficult times, the judge said to give it to me. The penalties I agreed to would be for generations. I remortgaged everything. My cross was heavy. I was short $95,000 the day before [the closing date]. That night, I told my wife and child, "I don't think I will survive tomorrow, you will have to leave the house. I'll be in jail." The next morning, a guy knocked at my door [to buy in] and wrote a cheque. I ran to the bank. Now I needed seeds, plants, $250,000 for irrigation. Hydro and natural gas were to be cut off the day we harvested our first box.

We're on our fourth crop – 67,000 to 70,000 mini-cucumber plants on seven acres – each crop 40,000 boxes, going across Canada and into the U.S., $700,000 for each crop. Our biodigester will feed into Niagara-on-the-Lake's grid, enough to power approximately 500 houses. I also have six acres of peaches and pears and two houses, one an eight-bedroom with swimming pool [which is rented out]. I am not interested in that; I stay in the small house.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Story continues below advertisement

‘Frankly I like to surround myself with introverts that help me but they modulate my behaviour.’ Special to Globe and Mail Update
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles as we switch to a new provider. We are behind schedule, but we are still working hard to bring you a new commenting system as soon as possible. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to