This time last year, I started a year-long journey with 11 fellow fresh produce industry professionals selected to participate in the prestigious United Fresh Produce Industry Leadership Program. The program is open to representatives of United Fresh member companies and has specific goals designed for participants including:
- To develop produce industry professionals with the ability and desire to lead within their companies, their communities and the industry;
- To provide cohesion among industry sectors, with a strong link to agricultural production; and
- To provide a personal experience in shaping and leading public policy issues.
As the one and only representative from an industry service provider selected to join the class including people from various areas of expertise in the industry, I entered the program on a mission to broaden my leadership skills and experience the various facets of the fresh produce industry that I serve.
My class had the opportunity to spend four weeks together traveling to various areas of the country to visit farms, pack houses, wholesale centers and ranches all the while gaining a 360 degree view and appreciation for how fresh produce makes the journey from field to fork each day.
People have asked me what the most impactful part of the experience was for me. This is not as easy of a question to answer as one might think. Since we were given such a rich experience and opportunity for growth, how could I possibly narrow the value of the whole experience down into one single thing? For me, the things that I will take with me forever are many and have already begun to shape me as a leader.
I will never forget when I gained a new appreciation for farmers and migrant workers in our industry and the imminent need for immigration reform. We had the unique opportunity to cross the U.S./Mexico border in Yuma and walked with eager workers from Mexico seeking work with local farmers in need of labor to harvest the miles and miles of crops ripe with product to sell.
I will never forget when I realized how important my ability to speak to an audience in a confident and persuasive manner is absolutely imperative if I intend to walk on Capitol Hill and sway members of congress to understand the realities facing our industry and ask for legislative support.
I will never forget the feeling of pride that I felt as I gave our class’ final speech during United Fresh Conference & Expo in Chicago last month announcing that we had raised over $25,000 in support of the United Fresh Community Grants program, aimed to provide children with access to fresh fruit and vegetables after school, on the weekends, during summer breaks and in other creative venues.
What I didn’t realize when I began this journey is that the program is more than meets the eye. As a new graduate of Class 22, I now fully understand that I am expected to take what I have learned and shape that into paving the way for future generations. Whether leading large groups of people, organizations or legislation, my role as a leader is to work to ensure that fresh fruits and vegetables stay available to people. Period.
I would like to give a special thanks to the company that provides the grant to support this program, DuPont Crop Protection, and our host, United Fresh Produce Association. In addition, I want thank the companies at home that supported their employees and members of Class 22 all along the way; Dole Fresh Vegetables, Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo, Maglio Produce, Freshway Foods, Renaissance Food Group, Mastronardi Produce, California Giant Berry Farms, Mission Produce, Walmart Stores, 4Earth Farms, L&M and DMA Solutions.
If you are or know a candidate in the fresh produce industry that is ready to take their leadership growth to the next level, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would be delighted to lead you to your next step.