Celebrating 35: Where Did the Years Go?
By SUE VIGNOLA
By early spring each year we’re already thinking about the harvest to come and all the preparation that must be done before we are ready to launch the new season. With this, our 35th year in business, we feel it’s important to look back on where we started, where we are now and where we are headed.
1980+ How it all began.
We, Sue and Richard Vignola, are running Sunseed Natural Foods, a popular store in downtown Vernon, BC.
We meet Carl Isaac, a gentleman from the Enderby Mennonite community, newly returned from California with a pickup full of fresh nuts and beautifully soft dates, and we begin promoting the California harvest each autumn.
A consistent and appreciative customer base grows to anticipate this annual bounty, and Carl Isaac becomes our business partner for the next twenty years.
Each November we travel to remote Mennonite farms in Alberta for the annual “Truckload Sale” of freshly harvested nuts and dried fruit.
The Vignola family, circa 1982: Sue and Richard with children Natalia and Simon.
1985+ Moving on. After selling our natural food store, we take our young family on an extended trip to the UK and Europe. Returning eight months later, we settle in Kelowna so that our children, Natalia and Simon, can attend the Kelowna Waldorf School. The seasonal “new crop” business continues to grow through word of mouth, and we receive products and process orders out of ever-changing rental locations throughout the Okanagan. In 1985, the September wholesale price list is only one page long, but shortly thereafter it quickly grows to two full pages!
1990+ Back to Vernon. Finding a ten-acre parcel of land and a functioning homestead off Silver Star Road makes the move back to Vernon exciting. Going by the name Vignola Enterprises, operations are carried out from our home office and wherever we can find suitable rental facilities to receive the product shipments.
With Richard’s idea to deliver our products directly to Hutterite colonies throughout the Prairies, the annual wholesale ordering system continues expanding. The list of products continues to grow as we source more organics and offer a wider selection to families and buying clubs across Canada. Meanwhile, the November “Truckload Sales” attract an ever-wider customer base.
Hutterite women gather for the annual delivery of their fruit and nut order.
1995+ The search for a home, and a new name. Business is booming, we’re gaining fixtures and fittings, and it’s becoming harder to move around. A beautiful old wooden building in the heart of Vernon, formerly a fruit-packing plant, catches Richard’s eye and Forge Valley Storage becomes our home for the next ten years.
The Rancho Vignola crew outside historic Forge Valley Storage.
1996 sees the creation of our new name, Rancho Vignola. We begin producing a four-page newsletter to correspond with our customers, keeping them up to date on crop news and recipes. Work begins on the development of our very first website. It is during the fall of 1999 that we hear of the sudden death of our partner, Carl Isaac, who will be forever commemorated in our hearts.
2000+ Y2K arrives, and we’re still here. Although we staged our very own computer crash, racing an old PC down our toboggan hill, the rest of the country survives Y2K unscathed, and a new century is born! We begin sponsoring our first athlete, local snowboard cross racer Tom Velisek. We depart on the first of our many “travels in the Ranchomobile,” which takes us from Vancouver Island to the Yukon and Canada’s Northwest Territories, visiting customers and making new friends along the way.
Our 2003 season sees the launch of a brand new logo and an efficient toll-free line, followed in the new year by another first: our Spring Clearance Sale in March. An online shopping system for our wholesale customers is tentatively introduced.
Customers flock to the Harvest Event at Paddlewheel Park Hall in Vernon, BC.
Our annual sales, now called Harvest Events, expand to include Vernon, Salmon Arm and Kelowna.
2005+ The move to Armstrong, BC. Rancho Vignola reaches its 25th year. The September wholesale price list is now four pages long and features Rancho’s first house-made custom mix: Rancho’s Super Anti-Oxidant Goji Mix. Our charitable donations and support programme keeps growing to include not only food banks and orphanages, but also musical, sports and theatrical events in our community and beyond. To encourage fundraising campaigns using Rancho Vignola products, we create printed guidelines and a customized order form. In 2008-2009, our travels take us to Mexico, Vietnam and Indonesia. But the biggest news of all is our move (in 2006) to a much larger and more efficient warehouse in the neighbouring town of Armstrong. After many years of being crammed together in a dark, freezing cold room, the space and comfort of our new offices is absolute luxury!
Witty the Super Walnut.
2010+ Thirty nutty years already! With the new legislation for almond pasteurization firmly entrenched in the US, we are excited to bring in unpasteurized organic almonds from Australia. Circumstances encourage us to take over the storage business located in our building, and Rancho Cooling is born. We begin filming fun little cooking videos in the newly renovated Rancho Kitchen at the Vignola homestead. Witty the Super Walnut is introduced as Rancho's first mascot, and enjoys an impressive amount of public exposure in our local community and beyond. Our next travels see us in Italy and Turkey, taking cooking classes, learning all about the local crops and visiting plantations. In 2014, we launch our first Harvest Event on Vancouver Island, in the charming seaside town of Sidney.
Sue presents her recipe for savoury roasted almonds to the video camera.
2015+ The road ahead!… And so onwards. We are solidifying plans to make our current location in Armstrong our permanent home. Richard and I edge closer to retirement, while son Simon and his close-knit management team maintain responsibility for Rancho Vignola’s daily operations. Our sister business, Rancho Cooling, continues to grow as it takes on more storage customers, including some of our favourite local farmers and food producers. We’re looking at organic certification for our packaging room and, a little further into the future, equipment for producing our very own dry-roasted nuts.
A fresh batch of Rancho's own custom-made organic fruit and nut mix.
Where did the years go? I would say growing – growing a business, growing children, growing a community – and always striving to help make the world a better place. Since the beginning, it has felt like an honour and a privilege to be in this nutty business, sharing our passion for fresh, newly-harvested foods. We thank you for the years of support, and hope Rancho Vignola can continue to bring you “The Best of the New Crop” for generations to come!