Looking Back to Look Forward
The best way to understand the character, expertise and dedication of Sutherland Produce to organics is to understand Sutherland… the man. As early as 1969, as an “Aggie” at New Mexico State, Bill Sutherland first became interested in agriculture. His fondness for the outdoors and beauty of our great land, led him to hike the John Muir trail, some 212 miles, ultimately changing his focus on life and role as a man. After a few years exploring Santa Cruz, Mexico and Kauai, Bill settled in San Diego where he discovered the virtues of organic agriculture and began his dedication to the industry, to organic produce and to environmental responsibility.
Bill Sutherland became interested in agriculture while attending New Mexico State.
After a time in Northern California and Hawaii, Bill settled in San Diego and was introduced to organic produce in Temecula, California.
Established the first organic citrus and avocado packing house in the country. It was the beginning of organic produce distribution out of Southern California and a time when there was no universal standard for “organic.” Bill and other early organic pioneers came together with standards that would ultimately change the industry and through aggressive lobbying of senators and congressmen would become law.
Founded a packing operation and a “new start” for organic packers called Fresh Start Farms. Located in Fallbrook, California, the company started produce packing in their own boxes using packing machinery and experienced packers instead of the usual wooden crates and banana boxes.
Bill and fellow organic pioneer, Charlie Heermans, combined their talents, growers and assets to form West Coast Organics. Together they developed the first organic wax for citrus. Organic produce not only needed to taste good; it needed to “look” good, too, if it was to successfully compete with its commercial, non-organic counterpart.
Founded Southwest Organics. With improved organic standards, good third-party certifiers and a more trusting public, the organic produce industry was growing in leaps and bounds at this point, producing a lot of opportunistic mergers and acquisitions. The future of organic produce was looking very healthy.
Founded Sutherland Produce Sales Inc. as what was believed to be the first exclusive organic produce broker. Starting as the exclusive broker for a few of what Bill considered the best, early organic growers, the young company and Bill’s passion for organic produce was established.
Some of Sutherland’s first growers, many still represented by Sutherland Produce today, include:
- Olson Family Farms (stone fruit)
- Rucker Homestead (citrus , grapes)
- A.V. Thomas (yams)
- Todd Organic Orchards (pears)
Sutherland Produce would focus its marketing and sales efforts on expanding the organic market: first by convincing traditional produce distributors, wholesalers and retailers to add organic to their line, and second by opening the East Coast organic market with the addition of Organic Farms and other distribution and retail customers. Albert’s Organics, a major West Coast produce distributor, would also become an early customer of Sutherland.
Sutherland would add Whole Foods Market as a customer in the early 90s as part of their expansion.
Greater distribution and retail presence would ultimately create new opportunities for organic produce, thus attracting new growers and commitments to organic farming.
The company would earn the prestigious “XXXX” Blue Book rating, and later become a Blue Book trading member in 2004.