Teenager’s passion carries through 40 years at Awe Sum Organics

05/07/2010 12:57:09 PM
Don Schrack

David Posner’s interest in organically grown produce began when he was but a teenager. It grew quickly into a passion, which continues to burn 40 years later.

That passion has served to alter the organic landscape of produce sections in markets throughout the U.S. and Canada.

It was a high school organic gardening class that planted the seed. When the teacher moved on simultaneously with Posner’s graduation, school administrators tabbed Posner to replace him as teacher. The school’s financial problems soon transformed the teenage teacher into a budding entrepreneur.

At his suggestion, Posner and his students developed a new revenue stream for the school.

“I took the vegetables to Santa Cruz to sell to retailers,” said Posner, now president and chief executive officer of Awe Sum Organics Inc., Capitola, Calif.

“What I couldn’t sell, I took to the farmers’ market.”

It was there Posner encountered a few other farmers who shunned the use of chemicals. Their fruits and vegetables soon found their way onto Posner’s truck.

“It didn’t look like conventional stuff, but it tasted really, really good,” he said.

The word spread. In short order, Posner’s truck was making deliveries to San Francisco — 75 miles away — and then it was on to Los Angeles, 350 miles distant. Stops in Santa Barbara and Sacramento followed.

Along the way, Posner added new growers in the San Joaquin Valley and in the California desert. As more and more retailers began stocking organic produce, Posner faced a dilemma: California growers could not supply his customers year-round.

“What we had on the shelf was what was in season locally,” Posner said. “My idea was to get them what they wanted, but couldn’t get.”

By the late 1970s, the concept took Posner to Mexico to source organic vegetables and tropical fruits. He was just getting started.

“I thought organics were going to go mainstream,” Posner said. “I firmly believed organic agriculture is sustainable agriculture, always putting back into the soil.”

His vision was to have enough organic produce to go around for everybody and at a reasonable price, but profitable for growers, he said.

California alone could not deliver enough produce for retailers to maintain organic sections year round. Good quality imports were the solution.

“He was smart enough to go to New Zealand,” said Tom Lively, senior account representative for Organically Grown Co., Clackamas, Ore., and an Awe Sum customer for 20 years.

“He was the first guy, I’m sure, to bring organic pears and apples from New Zealand.”


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