For many fresh produce marketers, when asked what we do for a living it can be difficult to explain our job to people outside the industry. Personally, when I say that I work for a marketing agency that exclusively serves fresh produce brands, it is usually met with curiosity. Instead of spouting off about all the marketing activations that happen over the course of a typical day, I like to talk about the type of people I work with and the type of people we serve. My answer sounds something like this: “We’re an incredibly eclectic group, and we all love food. All kinds, but especially fresh food. Our common purpose is guided by ‘a belief in the good of food that is grown’, and we’ve all chosen to dedicate a big portion of our lives to increasing the demand of nourishing food by supporting the farmers that grow it.” But as a marketer, we always want people to have more context, which is exactly what I am sharing today.
I recently went on my first field tour trip to Yuma, Arizona, where the sky is painted like the pottery that adorns deserted sidewalks and the sun seems to hang out considerably closer to the earth. It makes for perfect growing conditions for all kinds of crops--especially medjool dates, which are said to do best with 100 days of 100 degrees to thrive. To begin, the DMA team was taken up to the top of the trees to try our hand at harvesting, tasted the fruit of our labor in the form of a golden date sweeter and creamier than caramel. Then, we walked through pack houses where the intricate process of sorting for quality resembled the complexity of that found in Willy Wonka's factory... You'd never know the labor of love that goes on behind the scenes unless you were privy to this sort of view!
Eduardo, director of crop quality, was the one tasked with the “privilege” of driving us around all day. He seemed to know everything (and somehow more) about farming medjool dates, from how the first tree got to America to how many more days a piece of fruit needs to ripen after a single glance. What’s more, it’s clear that his work is more than “just a job”. The harvest season wasn’t just about getting the fruit off the trees and en route to store as quickly and efficiently as possible: it was about impacting the community as a whole. It provides many people with work, but even more than that, enhanced quality of life because of the way they were cared for.
Eduardo told us about the journey he and his wife experienced on the road to parenthood, which included his son being born dangerously prematurely at 6 months, and how his love for this “miracle child” had caused him to change his pace of life and look for a meaningful career that would keep him close to home. It brought a steadiness that enabled him to savor the years of watching his son grow up. He spoke of their weekly family dinners and explained the difference between northern and southern Mexican food. He talked about carne asada and tacos al pastor as one might a childhood friend. When I asked him what his favorite thing to cook was, he said breakfast it for his son. Papas con chorizo.
Trips like this drive home the reality that the fresh produce section of the grocery store is truly a mecca of stories. Stories of families with generations of farmers who have dedicated their lives to good and honest work. Stories of sticking it out despite drought, heat, and the tragedies life throws that are far greater than that of bad weather. Stories behind each set of soul-bearing eyes that have inspected each head of lettuce and every bunch of bananas. It’s so easy to be touched by the hands that pitch in each step of the way to bring us the food we so often take for granted.
Where there is food, there is always love somewhere close by. We see this in the fields; the patience that is taken to grow it, the detailed care that goes into making sure it’s safe and nourishing for the body, and the faces of those who are working to provide food for their own family. We see it in the culture as a way to connect, in the sharing of beautiful dishes on social media, or the physical gathering around a table for everyone to linger over food that was thoughtfully prepared. It’s one of the few things that all humans have always—and will always—share in common, no matter how divided the world around us may seem.
Yes, our work is fun. We get to create new recipes and take pictures of food, and even keep up with the latest avocado trends. But the true reward comes from knowing that our work touches the Eduardos of the world, along with his now-10-year-old miracle baby. Let’s face it: the agriculture industry can be viewed as “un-glamorous.” It’s hard work to grow fruits and vegetables, and it’s hard work to get people excited about them. In fact, it would be much easier to market a sugary soda or flavor-engineered chips. But the health of our world depends on fresh food—which is arguably the simplest and most effective way to prevent disease and improve quality of life (while continuing to provide countless jobs along the way). Even when our work is hard, it’s important to remember that we are incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to do what we do.
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