Doing the Most Good

IGSA 2021 Russet Aristocrat Dave Kingston

Published online: Aug 04, 2021 Articles, Grower of the Month Tyrell Marchant, Editor
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This article appears in the 2021 program for the Idaho Grower Shippers Association annual convention.
Dave Kingston has been awarded the IGSA's annual Russet Aristocrat award.

David Kingston, M.D.

That’s what the placard in the lobby was going to say. For as long as he can remember, Dave Kingston has been an ambitious kind of guy who has wanted to do well in the world. As a young man, born in Ogden, Utah, the native set his sights high. Kingston served on a LDS mission to Cumorah in upstate New York. He attended Weber State University and the University of Utah as a pre-med student, and served as an Army medic during the Vietnam War and later attended Stanford Graduate School of Business. Dave Kingston was going to be a doctor.

But then a funny thing happened: Kingston fell for an Idaho girl who, true to the stereotype, came from a potato family. In 1973, Kingston went to work at the sales desk of Hurley Produce, a fresh-packing company owned by his father-in-law Harold Hurley.

“My whole life, I had this idea of being a medical doctor. Potatoes were the farthest thing from my mind,” says Kingston. “But a lot of young men at that time were graduating college with no job. I was starting a family, I really loved Idaho, and I was offered a position and eventual ownership of a business that was debt-free. I thought it was a unique opportunity; I took it and it became a passion.”

Bass & Hurley, precursor to Hurley Produce, began in 1948 and ran three packing plants in eastern Idaho: in Rexburg, Ucon and Rigby. This was the beginning of what would later become Kingston Companies. Kingston’s training was on the job; he was immediately expected to man the sales desk and load trucks, as well as perform any labor whenever and wherever needed.

“Harold really was a mentor to me,” Kingston says. “He taught me the business. I didn’t know anything, but he still put me on that sales desk from Day 1. I kind of got thrown to the wolves, and it was a steep learning curve for me.”

Kingston managed to tame the wolves he was thrown to, proving so adept to the potato business that he became owner of what is now Kington Fresh in 1977, at the age of 30. The placard now read, Dave Kingston, CEO, and Kingston felt that he was in a fantastic position to do a different kind of good in the world, just as he had always intended.

By the late ’80s, Kingston Fresh was packing and shipping a combined 30,000 sacks a day from its three eastern Idaho facilities. Kingston and his brother Michael made a concerted effort to build a brand targeted at the foodservice industry. Over the years, that brand has become one of the most recognizable fresh food brands in the country, diversifying its capabilities as customer needs arose. Fresh potatoes, onions, and—interestingly—pineapple are Kingston Fresh’s largest sources of revenue. The company is also a reliable source for several other commodities. Displayed on the company’s website is the mission statement: “Our mission at Kingston is to feed the world safe, wholesome and delicious food. We strive to be your preferred provider for premium fresh produce.”

“Over the years, our end users have asked us to source different products, so we have gone out and found those products,” says Kingston. “More diversification in product lines gives us more exposure to end users, and that’s good for business.”

Kingston is the proud father of five children: Michele, David Jr., Amy, Chris and Nick; and has two godchildren, Paige and Miah. Most have worked in the business over the years. Kingston is a family business; Dave’s brother, two sisters, nieces and nephews are all employed with the company.

Kingston has made it a point throughout his career to use the business not only as a moneymaking venture, but as a way to positively impact the industry and community around him. He served as chairman of IGSA as well as on the board of United Fresh. While he took on those roles as a way to give back, Kingston believes those experiences helped his business in tangible ways. He was appointed by the secretary of agriculture to a PACA task force to make updates and form the trust provision now within the PACA law.

“You make contacts and build relationships in those environments, and it helps your personal development,” Kingston says. “Any time you can be of service to your industry, it’s always mutually beneficial. It’s a win-win. I’m a strong proponent of being involved and public service.”

Kingston was a founding partner of Potandon, along with Steve Ottum, Mel Davenport, Kent Romwell, Ron Olsen, Jeff Shoul, Balcom & Moe and the Connors family from Washington State. Potandon has, of course, become the largest shipper of potatoes and onions in the U.S. Kingston sold his interest in Potandon to partners and farmers in 2002.

“My time with Potandon taught him the value of a brand,” says Kingston. “Everyone involved was great, and it proved a very successful partnership.”

Along with his industry involvement, Kingston has always been an active leader in other community-building organizations. A Kingston  501(c)(3) charitable foundation seeks out and contributes to worthy causes around the world.

“Public service, charity, philanthropy—they’ve always been a big part of my life,” says Kingston. “The potato industry has allowed us to help a lot of people.”

What it all comes down to is Kingston’s steadfast belief that those who have been blessed by their hard work and success have a stewardship to pass on what they’ve learned to those who come behind, and that the young have a solemn responsibility to value and improve on the foundation laid by their mentors. Amy and Nick have been with the company full-time for a couple years now, and Kingston says it’s important to strike the delicate balance between mentoring and micromanaging.

“I give credit for my success to a few mentors who helped me learn business,” he says. “If Harold Hurley hadn’t brought me in, there wouldn’t be a Kingston Fresh today. I always encourage family businesses to bring their young people in. You have to a bench and give them experience if you want the business to succeed, and last.”