PVGA Life Member – Burton Hetherington
Born and raised in the rolling mountains and valleys of East Central Pennsylvania, Burton Hetherington as a young boy accompanied his father on his market route in a neighboring coal town where his father sold raw milk, eggs, apples, and potatoes along with seasonal produce.
By the time Burton graduated from high school, the retail business had transformed into a wholesale business with cabbage and potatoes being delivered to stores and the city terminal markets by the truck load.
As single grocery stores became chain stores, vegetable growers needed a better system to market their product to the chain stores and wholesalers. In 1953, a group of progressive vegetable growers including Hetherington formed the Berwick Vegetable Cooperative to market their produce. In 1957, he became the became the full-time manager of the Cooperative. He began procuring seed potatoes, vegetable transplants, and bud containers for growers in addition to marketing seasonal produce to chain stores and wholesalers from New York to Florida. Ships set sail for Europe carrying Pennsylvania cabbage for the US military while containers of more Pennsylvania cabbage were shipped to Puerto Rico.
Hetherington worked with a packaging company to design and successfully fabricate the world’s first cardboard containers replacing the more expensive and often dangerous wire bound crates.
He was contracted by Furman Canning Co. of Northumberland, as Furmano Foods was known then, to procure Georgia field grown transplants in order to supply Furman’s expanding grower network.
When the H L Hunt Canning Co. in Bloomsburg closed its doors in the early 1970’s, several local growers approached Hetherington about marketing fresh market green beans through the Cooperative which was successful for a period of years.
One of the major problems of operating a seasonal produce operation is the year round overhead. Hetherington solved this problem by bringing in and packing potatoes from other areas in the spring and summer. This not only helped cover the year round overhead costs, but just as importantly enabled the Cooperative to be a year round potato supplier to its customers
In 1980, Hetherington left the Berwick Cooperative when he acquired his own wholesale produce business. He was always mindful to feature produce and fruit from local growers. He also provided a hauling service for many of his former Cooperative clients.
Hetherington served several terms as a PVGA Director and was the Association’s paid lobbyist for several years. As a leader on the Board, he was a member of the PVGA committee that advocated and worked out the details of merging the Pennsylvania Vegetable Conference with the Annual Meeting of the State Horticulture Association of Pennsylvania and the Horticultural Societies of Maryland and New Jersey in 1978. That was the first year of the combined meetings that have come to be known as the Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention.