How It All Began
CELEBRATING 25 YEARS of the BEST of the NEW CROP
Yes, you can say it – we don’t look old enough to have been in this business for 25 years! Even we find it hard to believe! Yet the dates do not lie. From 1978 to 1984 we operated our natural food store, Sunseed Natural Foods, in downtown Vernon.
Sunseed was a thriving little store in those days, with a vegetarian restaurant complementing the store’s focus on basic, wholesome natural foods, herbs and quality supplements. An essential stop on trips to town for rural dwellers, tree-planters on their day off and senior citizens on their daily walks to town, Sunseed was a hive of activity.
A fateful encounter.
In the fall of 1978 a gentleman named Carl Isaac came into the store.
An imposing figure with a mane of white hair and a white beard, Carl had just been to California to visit his son and had brought back for sale a few boxes of almonds, walnuts and some incredibly huge, juicy dates, the likes of which we had never seen before. Little did we realize then just where this first encounter would lead! Beginning in 1975, Carl and his son Robert had already made a few trips back and forth to California, but by 1978 Robert had made other career choices which kept him at home. During one of Carl’s subsequent visits to the store, Richard mentioned that he would be interested in accompanying him to California to visit the farms and orchards producing these incredible fresh nuts and dried fruit. Our store outlet gave us the perfect environment in which to enthusiastically promote the sale of fresh nuts and dried fruit newly arrived from the latest harvest.
However, our daughter Natalia had just been born in October 1979, so it wasn’t until the following year that Richard was able to accompany Carl and his wife Margaret on the first of many annual trips to California. These trips resulted in lasting contacts with small farmers and processors who have now, like us, grown into larger businesses. Thus the merging of Richard’s entrepreneurial vision with Carl’s extensive business experience led to a partnership which lasted almost twenty years, ending sadly with Carl’s passing in the fall of 1998 in his 82nd year.
Prairie roots. Carl Isaac was raised in the Mennonite faith and maintained close ties with the church all his life. This connection led to the association of our nut business with the Mennonite community, especially in the Prairie provinces. For almost twenty years, one of our biggest Public Sales was held at the home and farm of a Mennonite family in Linden, Alberta. Many long-time customers fondly remember coming to the annual Sale at Frank Klassen’s farm. Frank would remove all the old tractors and engine parts from his workshop, give it a good sweep and set up plywood tables on sawhorses to display the nuts and dried fruit.
Customers travelled from far and wide to visit the Linden Sale, and the town’s restaurants were always overwhelmed with business during the two days of the Sale. Frank’s wife Clara loved her role as hostess, greeting each customer with a smile and keeping track of the towns from which they all came. Just as we came to the realization that we were rapidly outgrowing Frank’s workshop, Frank and Clara made the decision to pass on the farm to one of their many grandchildren and make the move into town. Sadly, Clara passed away before the move could take place, but Frank is still going strong, and we see him every year when he pays us a visit at the Sale’s new location in Airdrie.
Our other popular Alberta Sale was held for many years at the home and farm of another Mennonite family, Don and Beulah Isaac of New Norway, near Camrose. This Sale later moved to the Penner farm in the back country of Camrose where every year James and Phyllis Penner’s growing family would help set up the Sale in James’ shop. The Penner children, now teenagers, and many other members of the Mennonite community still help us work the Sale at the Camrose Regional Exhibition.
Our Sales, especially those in Alberta, have always played a big role in fuelling the wholesale business, since many customers quickly become interested in purchasing in larger quantities and find it an attractive opportunity to form their own buying groups and become wholesale customers. Today, buying groups represent the fastest-growing segment of our business, increasing by about 20% every year, primarily by word of mouth and customer referrals. The Public Sales in BC and Alberta also continue to grow and our unique once-a-year business is attracting attention right across Canada!