Monday, December 1, 2014

Paying for the Details...

This is Harkin Road. It is the place where I go to think, unwind, or just spend some time appreciating the beauty of this part of the Salinas Valley. I can walk from my office to Spreckels and back in about 50 minutes, depending on the beat of the music playing in my headphones.

The only time I am not really excited about this route is when somebody is harvesting their crop. Fortunately my music drowns out most of the unsolicited attention, but I have to tell you, these crews have quite a repertoire of animal sounds. Their wolf whistles are often accompanied by something sounding more like a goat. I try not to take it personally, and I guess I can take pleasure in knowing that I have broken up the monotony of cutting and packing product for a few minutes.  

One of the more common things to see is a semi truck lumbering down this narrow road. Every time I see one of these guys out there I catch myself wondering why no one told them that trucks this size are restricted past Hunter Lane. I know that either the driver was not warned ahead of time about this restriction, or they missed the somewhat obvious sign, or they are bold (foolish?) enough to take their chances with getting caught. I can see why it would be tempting.  It’s such a short section of the road, and really it only takes a few minutes to cover the restricted section. BUT….the pleasant little town of Spreckels lies in the path, with a school, narrow streets and watchful residents awaiting the unwary big truck travelers.  

Last week as an Alabama truck rolled past it struck me that these are the ‘little’ things that can really add value to a broker’s service. It’s not a trade secret, or an innovative process, or anything else that makes it inherently unique, but guiding a driver through time efficient routes is a distinctive and significant valuable process. I was trained to pay attention to these types of details, but anyone (broker) who appreciates that a person (customer--carrier or produce) paying for their service should expect this type of diligence in the managing of their load shipment.

Why? How does this small misstep affect a driver’s overall time? After all, a quick turn around and it’s all good, right? Often the answer to that question is ‘Wrong.’  

I didn’t watch how the last driver got himself turned around, but he handled it a little faster usual. Somewhere between 10 and fifteen minutes later after he passed me, headed toward the restricted section, I heard the roar of a big engine over my music, and sure enough, he had seen the last warning sign and was rolling back towards Salinas.  

I have heard people say that football can be a game of inches. Well, getting a load picked up on time should never be a game (although it really can have some fun parts) but it can come down to managing minutes. My experience with many shipping facilities and their appointment times has convinced me that losing as little as five minutes can result in severely impacting the loading plan. Rescheduling one appointment can mean getting that one piece on the trailer may have to wait until the next day, which affects every pick down the line. Sometimes it requires the truck to travel extra distances.  Miles are money. And looking downstream, hopefully this small snafu doesn’t make the truck late for the delivery. Yikes, during a Thanksgiving holiday push? Don’t even want to think about it!  

I could list so many negative consequences to this seemingly small detail. Another day, another blog. BUT, I will say that your broker partner should be including this type of information (routing issues) in their dispatches to the drivers. And when I use the term 'dispatch' I am assuming that it is not only in written form, but your broker should be having verbal conversations with drivers about anything that disrupts the flow of the pick ups, down to the nitty gritty details like ‘Don’t take Harkin Road to T & A!’  

Lots of trucks were loading last week for arrival in time for holiday shopping. People were paying some big money to get their product to their customers on schedule. As Jack used to say, I ‘bet a dollar to a doughnut’ that within the first week of December some of these people will be complaining about the service they did NOT get for the money they had to pay.

I don’t blame them. Pay attention to the details...

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The PMA...Produce and its People

The PMA was great! I went to Anaheim with an agenda, not only because I wanted to learn a few things from our customers, but having specific topics to talk about helps me stay focused on asking people enough questions to eventually find out things that are important to them.  

The trade show was as energetic as expected, colorful, noisy and very active. Companies bring their best game to these events. Shiny machines, colorful produce items, flashy technology, and tasty samples of all sorts of food and beverages vied for my attention. I got home with potato peelers, stress balls, pens and paper, samples of nuts and candy, bottle openers, and...and...and….  

But the best takeaway ended up being the people. I had great conversations with many  people, and this was probably a result of changing my expectations for the show. These events are not cheap, especially for small companies. In the past I have attended them with the burden of making them pay for themselves in new business.  

Not this time. From the first morning at breakfast through the very last conversation I had with a temperature monitoring vendor I was focused on listening to every last word people felt like telling me. The stack of business cards I walked away with are not just a bunch of ‘potential’ customers. Rather, behind almost each one is a story.  

I think I am becoming my dad, finally. One of his favorite things to do is to ‘work a room.’  He absolutely loves to talk to people and it seems like he knows everybody. It’s because he is interested in who they are, where they come from, what they like to do, and where they are headed.  

It was exciting to come home and get to work. Meeting people, both new and old friends, was like a shove in the right direction. You know, like when we learn to ride a bike, and whoever is holding us up gives one quick push and off we go?  

This morning I stepped out onto our balcony and inhaled a huge long breath of crisp Salinas Valley air. The cooler it is the easier it is to smell the nearby crops, and today the air was full of celery. Soon most of the fields will be harvested, and that celery will be all over the country fresh and ready for the holiday. How many people, each with their own story, does it take to get that crop in the ground, grown, harvested, packed, shipped, delivered, and in the stores?  

It really is all about people.

Friday, October 17, 2014


Photo Credit:

"Those who say it can not be done, should not interrupt those doing it."
-- Chinese Proverb
I saw this on Twitter yesterday. It reminded me of one of my dad’s lines, ‘Fish or cut bait.’ Either way, the point is clea. Be either in or out, but if you are in, not only do it all the way, but do it well. And for sure, don’t hinder those who are moving forward.
For the past few weeks I have been preparing for the PMA’s Fresh Summit in Anaheim. And as I put together some last details for my trip, I couldn’t help but think how relevant this proverb was in the current transportation environment. While my focus for this show is on learning more about how produce companies plan to implement the different aspects of FSMA as they relate to carriers, I know I will be asked questions about the capacity crunch, hours of service, driver shortage, CARB, and other trucking odds and ends.  
These are all very real issues. Interestingly enough, despite the other food related industries’ attention to this growing problem, the produce industry has not seemed to be as concerned about getting their product to market. What I hear from our customers is that there have been pronouncements of impending problems for years. And that is true. The rise of fuel prices, carriers closing their doors, regulations making the business unprofitable, in addition to other factors have led to dire predictions. And then the season (summer or holiday) starts, and different factors are set in play, and the crunch just doesn’t happen. California water shortage, a disease outbreak, extreme temperatures either way, and once again, the capacity problem does not materialize to the degree anticipated and/or forecasted.
Maybe the market will stabilize, or become balanced enough to avert serious impact on the produce industry. But with increasing frequency, discussions are surfacing about how to manage the truck shortage. No longer is the point of these conversations about ‘if’ but rather ‘how’ to deal with it.  
As a non asset based truck broker, I am truly in the middle. In fact, a few years ago I almost decided to finally use my California law license and practice law instead of keeping the brokerage. After over ten plus years in the business, I was struggling to keep positive when both sides, produce and trucking companies, generally were unwilling to see the value of how each other’s business actually could strengthen their own. Of course, always, there are exceptions to the rules. I have freight customers that always have seen the big picture, making sure that the trucks hauling their loads are well paid and treated fairly. As for our trucking companies, my experience has been that for those who want to stay in the business, they are very careful to consistently and professionally handle shipments.
This past summer I completed my 16th year of owning this company. I am on the other side of my doubt about whether I should stick with it, mainly because a big part of my business is working with great people, in both industries.  
Now is the time, more than ever, to be the voice of change, and an active part of bringing both groups to a greater understanding of how their interests very much complement each other. I will use this blog, my participation in different groups in both industries, and in my day to day business dealings to hopefully make the union of the produce and transportation rewarding and productive.  
I know that the road ahead will not always be easy. But I believe it will be well worth it for so many reasons. I have always felt that these two wonderful industries have so much to offer each other, both in terms of business and accompanying relationships with amazing people. Hopefully the individuals who are comfortable with status quo will be equally comfortable with the rest of us making some great changes.  
Who know until we try right? Maybe I should end with a positive…
"You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take."
-- Wayne Gretzky

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Check Your Brakes and Keep Pedaling!

“THAT A GIRL PAMELA!!!” I love riding with Mark. Anytime I do something that I could or would not do before, my husband is the first to notice and celebrate.

Woo hoo!! Thirty-one miles per hour down Thorne Road! I actually think I have gone that fast before, but not often. And I didn’t touch the brakes….In fact, I even pedaled DOWNHILL!!!

Of course, having just written a post about my scary load and how it reminded me of going downhill on a bike, all I could think about was how my load turned out.

Actually, it didn’t. It didn’t come close to ‘turning out.’ Within an hour of sending my dispatch off to the truck the whole thing had gone south. It’s a long story, so I won’t describe the slow unraveling of what seemed to be the perfect opportunity of beginning something new and exciting. But, as it was all happening, for the most part, I did not ‘touch the brakes.’

I hesitated to write this post because it seems like everybody these days is creating content out of the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s interesting how creative some people can be at turning something this disappointing into three to five points that have some business relevancy. And I did learn (or at least get to review) some things that I did not know or remember from past experiences. But being sort of a private person, and definitely too proud to air my blunders, it just seemed smarter to think “Glad no one saw that!” and go on.

But since this happened, I have encountered some genuine concern and apprehension in the trucking industry that may have some parallels to careening downhill on a bike. Not only have I sensed some dissension and uncertainty in places like Linkedin and other trade journals, but also, some of our own carriers sound somewhat frayed over the long term future effect of regulations, and other industry issues. So, I might as well throw my two cents in, if nothing else, to remind myself of all the good that results from letting things get a little on the wild side.

First, do a brake check. Just before I crested the top of the hill, I did a quick squeeze on the lever (and at my age I am always glad that I remember to check the back brakes before the front.) This is one thing I did not do on my produce load. And I should have known better. See, sometimes being too familiar with a process can lead to inattentiveness to an important detail. One question to my carrier, and this entire dilemma would not have happened. That simple. Okay, next time, I am all over it.

As things develop, favorably or not, in the trucking and produce industries, stay focused and be diligent to do the things that seem insignificant. That way, as things heat up, at least you have the confidence to know you have things in place, systems, routines, policies and even people, to carry you through a rough spot.

Second, keep pedaling. On a bike, the pros pedal downhill to maintain rhythm in their pedal stroke. It was so exhilarating to shift into a higher gear so that I could go faster AND keep my rhythm.  Seriously, you gotta try it… I was truly full of myself at the bottom of the hill. Just remember this is NOT a good time to ride with a smile, at least with your teeth showing! Bugs...

This is the same idea as I mentioned in my first point. Don’t stop or hesitate to do what is a successful and important part of what you always do to keep moving. And the excitement of working through a problem knowing that you were pushing through it instead of grabbing the breaks and hesitating will give you renewed energy and interest in your business.

In my disaster load, even after seeing my disappointing first misstep, I moved on. There were definitely icky parts of that morning, and I wouldn’t want it to happen all the time, but as I continued to deal with the problem, I realized that I had more resolve and determination to make things better than I had originally thought. The day finished on a high note knowing I weathered that ordeal and had gained wisdom and experience for the next inevitable challenge.

Third, I can go fast, and live. For awhile now, I believed that going fast downhill was a definite crash and burn situation awaiting. It’s just not so. As I mentioned in my second point, keep pedaling, and of course, check your speed, but there is a positive outcome awaiting. Ride/work like you believe it and when you finish the test, look back and think like The Grinch. “That worked out nicely!”

Last, try to surround yourself with people who will encourage you to push past your limitations. As I said at the beginning of this post, hearing my husband’s excitement and seeing his smile over my new speed record, made me want to turn around and ride back up the hill to try to do better.  

When the dust settled that Friday and I had to switch gears from new customer/first load to make the hard calls and move on, I did have some moments of serious ‘Darn it!’ But I have family and friends that are QUICK to point out the upsides of a bad situation and kick me past the negatives.

Trucking is not simple, and neither does it always get the positive attention it truly deserves. And there are some significant challenges ahead that will test even the most determined of trucking companies. But, test the brakes, keep pedaling, and know that you will survive and enjoy the results with the people who helped get you down the hill!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Don't Touch the Brakes!

This is a big day. Waking up at 5 AM, excited for sure, but knowing that all the ‘unknowables’ are going to make it an interesting day for sure. New customer, new lane, familiar carrier but new type of load. Hmmm...don’t touch the brakes. Go with the flow.

It sort of reminds me of riding downhill on my bike. My husband is getting more and more proud of my resolve to let go. I’ll never forget the first time I coasted (well, not exactly...more like crept) down Thorne Road outside Greenfield. By the time I got to the flat my legs were shaky and my heart was pounding away. My hand was almost numb from my white knuckled grip on my brakes.

Two weeks ago we rode up Carmel Valley Road. I have to laugh at myself, because the entire time that I am working up the hills, I know what I am getting into. Downhill. But I love getting out and seeing the wildlife, the vineyards bursting with grapes, and the scent of the earth, especially early in the morning, are all irresistable. And worth the ‘not my favorite parts’ of a bike ride. I want to go new places, see new things, spend time with my husband and see how far I can push myself. Or, let myself go.

So here I am, putting the transportation pieces together of a mixer. I haven’t been doing many of these because I do tend to want perfection, my way. I want to feel relaxed from dispatch to delivery, because then I feel in control. Not always easy to do on a mixer, especially with new people.

But here’s the problem. I know that this attitude towards trying new things in my business is keeping me ‘on the flat.’ Sometimes it’s good to just roll along on the easy road, but there is something inside of us all, no doubt to varying degrees, that just sort of begs to be pushed. Not only physically, but also in our work.  

Going downhill has it’s risks. And the faster I go, it gets harder to manage the risks. Will I hit a pothole? What about an oncoming car? I may get a flat, I may forget which brake lever to pull and launch myself over the top! What if I can’t negotiate the turn? Squirrels darting across the road in front of me! Omgosh, endless things that are certain to make me wreck. I am too old for this! I have kids going to college and riding horses….I have to work! If I crash, who knows how long I will be out of commission.  

Seriously?! Don’t touch the brakes, and just let go.  

So on the mixer today? Who knows. Yeah, I may make appointments that get missed and need to be rescheduled. We may have to wait for product. Someone may decide to take their frustration out on me. The truck may have a flat, or the reefer may have a breakdown, yep, it could happen, sure enough. In fact, in sixteen years, I have had it all happen in one day on one load.  

So, I guess it’s my choice, be safe and bored, or bold and do new things.  

I made my decision, at least for today. I am getting to know new people, and I like them. I am going to a new destination, which means at some point I will get to travel to a new place to see where my trucks are going. I am working, how cool is that!  

There is always tomorrow to stick to the flat. Today, it’s all downhill. I may touch the brakes, but I won’t ride them.  

Stay tuned, I’ll keep you posted.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Women in Business

iStock Photo
This past week I happened to see an article by Dawn Strobel of Go By Truck Global News.  She does a good job lining out some of the issues that women continue to deal with in the business world. It reminded me about the discussion I heard in the Women in Produce session at the United Fresh produce convention in Chicago. As I have mentioned in earlier posts, this was one of the highlights of the trip for me.  

Each participant had a few moments to share their experiences about how the produce industry had given them many opportunities to flourish in their respective careers. They did touch on the issue of trying to be successful in a seemingly male dominated field, but all of them had clearly chosen the high road, ignoring the ‘glass ceiling’ distractions by focusing on utilizing their personal strengths and talents to be excellent in their jobs.

Raising children is also a typical part of a discussion about women trying to move forward with their careers while at the same time working diligently on keeping their family life well balanced.  Personally, this has been the most challenging part of owning a company.

Here’s why I say this.  

When dealing with a person who uses anything other than performance (and maybe attitude) to judge our fitness for a particular employment position, overcoming their objections becomes an issue of how hard one is willing to work. In the end, even if we are unable to gain that person’s respect, we can be confident that our work ethic and competence were not the reason that we failed, in their opinion. And often, diligent and skillful work does eventually convince a doubter that we are capable and valuable.

However, keeping our families together is not always about hard work only. Sometimes, making the right decision doesn’t always produce a result that feels good, especially to a mom. We have to make choices, non-stop, that have the possibility of lifelong consequences. Getting solid advice from people is difficult because families are all different, and what works for one may not be profitable for another.

But this is where I think the group at the convention did the best job of telling the truth about the realities of how their careers have affected their families. We heard about marriage challenges, mistakes and maybe some regret about not being more available. But most apparent was their determination in being great moms and that there are very real possibilities of being able to do a great job being excellent at work and home.  

My biggest regret during the past 16 years of owning Pam Young & Company, Inc. is that I chose to do things on my own instead of reaching out to people who probably would have been very willing to help, especially with my company. I was very concerned that my business, with all its demands, would have a negative effect on my family to the extent that my children would ultimately be, well, rats.  LOL. The good thing is that they are wonderful kids. But, I needed balance, and being afraid of dropping the ball on my children instead of asking for advice on how to keep my business head in the game was not a good decision.

The best thing about mistakes is that they help us learn and be better. My business is flourishing, despite my past shortcomings. Now, any time I meet someone, male or female, who is trying to achieve great things in all areas of their lives, I implore them to find the support they need to be successful at the things that are most important to them.  

I believe that one of the best things we can give our kids is an example. Mothers and fathers, working in any industry, need to think about the ways we show our children how to value our work, the people for whom we work, and of course, themselves.  

Hopefully you all are enjoying your summer! Most everybody in the produce business is very busy, including the great people who move it, so good luck to working in some great play time!

What is your family’s favorite summer activity?  Ours is the California Rodeo, swim time at Aunt Jennifer’s, and riding our horses.  Let me know at

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Mastering the Art of...Family Cooking!

In my last post I wrote about the positive outcomes for kids that cook. There are so many, but hopefully I was able to touch on some of the most valuable. Today is the day I am going to write about something that means very much to me. In fact, few things make me willing to get up on the proverbial soapbox like this issue of families cooking together.  

At the present time there is much focus in the produce industry on ways to get kids, and of course their parents, to choose fresh produce as meal and snack options. And lately the government’s resistance to requiring schools to offer fruits and vegetables is receiving well deserved scrutiny and perhaps inadequate scorn. Somewhere I read that one of the arguments against serving produce was that kids could ‘gobble up’ a hamburger in no time but produce takes a lot longer. So, is that a convenience or time problem?

Hmmmm...My kids can mow through a huge portion of roasted cauliflower and Brussel Sprouts in about a third of the time they get their hamburger down. But maybe it takes them longer because our burgers are piled with mushrooms, onions, avocado, lettuce and maybe a heirloom tomato from the garden. I’ve even forgotten to put the meat on mine!

These conversations about school nutrition are critical and necessary. We definitely need to keep the pressure on the people who have the responsibility and influence to make the right decisions on these issues. But another significant aspect of the discussion on health seems to be somewhat absent in many of these discussions.  

A truly healthy person is not just one who is consuming nutritious foods and implementing exercise into their routine. My experience with kids has taught me that the kids who thrive in many areas of their lives are the ones who not only eat nutritious foods and have opportunities to participate in physical sports, but also are children who enjoy solid nurturing relationships with their families, particularly their parents. I am not just talking about getting families to try to eat healthier. I believe that there needs to be a more specific discussion directed to parents and caregivers that helps them see and ultimately desire the direct rewards that come from cooking produce together.

In fact, (and now I feel like I am officially ‘out on a limb’) I would state that cooking, and all the parts of this exercise, presents a natural avenue and one of most effective means to create opportunities for necessary and longed for connections in families. From both the kids’ and parents’ points of view, families want meaningful relationships and all the great attributes that comprise the fabric of these relationships.

Watching Eliana play and interact.with her parents and being able to completely relate to their family dynamic, I know that much of this came from their experiences around preparing food.  There are so many benefits and good results that flow from working together on culinary projects, but at the very basic level, people are talking to each other, sharing ideas, giving and taking opinions, all the communication activities that so many families crave and need today.  

I am sure there are some naysayers who will let themselves believe that our (the Young) family life is not normal, that most families do not share this level of connection, and that this could never be their own families’ experience. First, true, we are NOT normal. Eliana’s mom and I had a good laugh about this very thing. What is ‘normal’ anyway? I’m not even sure I want to be normal. Second, and also true, many families don’t share the same opportunities that we do, but that is about choice, our choice.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not easy, it can be very time consuming, and it is not all ‘fun and games.’ The day Marc made his Beef Bourguignon I was working in my vegetable garden. I thought I was going to go nuts when he asked me his 500th question. I never have been so sorry about my decision to buy him a book. I never wanted to hear the name Julia Childs again! But, today, he makes very good dishes, AND the best part, we have a very special memory that we share. It was worth every hair pulling moment.

Honestly, there have been tears, angry words, hurt feelings (mine and theirs). You know, all the things that no one wants in their relationships with their kids. But, we talk, we plan, we shop, we compromise, sometimes we discipline (Are you kidding? Teenage boys with kitchen utensils?  Scary…) But the best thing we share is wonderful memories. What honest and normal (there is that vague word again) parent does not want this?

I do not have more time, talent, money or patience or any other resource than many parents.  And yes, I do have kid/family experiences that goes beyond my family of six. I taught school for 13 years, I have lots of family and friends that have kids. And in my 16 years at Pam Young & Company, Inc. many of the business relationships I have come to enjoy involve families with kids. Many of the conversations I have had with these people have directly involved a desire for deeper more meaningful relationships with their kids.   

Trade shows are not on the top of my ‘favorite things to do’ list. But I have to say, sharing time with Kid Chef Eliana inspired me, once again, to not only make as many opportunities as possible with my kids to make interesting things with fresh produce, but also, to encourage as many families as I can to do the same.  

If just one family makes an effort to start cooking fruits and vegetables together I will be very happy. Hopefully it’s yours! Bon Apetít!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Someone's in the Kitchen..Hopefully Your Kid!
As I mentioned in my last post, there were three significant highlights of the United Fresh produce convention last month in Chicago. Meeting my father’s friends, spending time with Kid Chef Eliana and her family, and finally, having the opportunity to listen to veteran produce women candidly talk about their experiences in the industry all combined to make the trip very worthwhile.  

Writing about this part of our trip was fun, because this part of the convention was truly a delight.  But as I got into the details of why I found Eliana’s enthusiasm and expertise inspiring, I realized that to effectively communicate why this was so important to me, I would need to make this post a two part endeavor. Here is the first...

It is interesting how eavesdropping can lead to interesting introductions. Marc (my son) and I stepped outside the Hard Rock Hotel to catch the convention shuttle and noticed another family waiting to go to the same place. In a matter of minutes we learned that they were from New Orleans, and as they interacted I tried to figure out whether it was the mom or dad who had the ‘produce’ connection that brought them to Chicago. What I could see right away is that they were just as ‘normal’ as my own family as they teased and laughed about a million things in about ten minutes.

While it is not a lengthy ride from downtown out to the convention center, it was long enough to learn a little bit more about this merry threesome. Soon I found out that they were not so normal, at least not in the sense that the mom or dad were the ‘produce people’ as I had earlier thought. They were escorting their famous daughter, Kid Chef Eliana, to the convention to do cooking demonstrations for one of their sponsors, IFCO Systems. I knew Marc was enjoying their conversation as much as I because every so often he would glance my way and flash his huge smile.  

Our bus trip to the convention ended, and so did our time with the New Orleans family, but only until the next day. On the trade show floor, after a few of hours of introducing myself to complete strangers and trying to learn some new things about their businesses, I was ready for a mental break. And who should I run into at the IFCO booth but Kid Chef Eliana! She had just completed her first demonstration where she prepared Creole Pasta Primavera. Oh my gosh, it was so delicious! The only thing missing was a glass of Nebiolo.

Not only did Marc and I get to watch her cooking demonstration, but throughout the rest of the day, and then later sharing an amazing few hours together at the wonderful Italian shop and restaurant Eataly, we had a great time being with a family that was as ‘normal’ as our own. In fact, talking about and actually eating different foods with Eliana’s family reminded me of the many experiences my own family has shared around food, especially in the kitchen.

This encounter with our new friends confirmed two important things (I would be so bold as to put them in ‘fact status’) about food, and fresh produce in particular. First, kids will flourish when given the opportunity to do things with food. And second, as they do, their families are first in position to reap the benefits of these culinary adventures.  

So why is this important, and who should take note of this connection between people and produce?

To my first point, which is all I will post now, this is very important because kids doing things with produce has so many positive outcomes that it is difficult to know where to begin. In Eliana’s context I am only speaking about kitchen experiences. Connecting to the produce world can start way earlier, such as choosing what to plant at home, tending the garden (water, weed and pest control) and then harvesting. Kids are so curious and interested in life around them. My experience in the classroom and in raising four of my own kids has often supported my belief that agriculture is truly a natural way to teach and motivate children to be and do amazing things.

Seeing Eliana confidently work away creating her pasta dish, all the while engaging her audiences as she moved through her own recipe, demonstrated so many aspects of how kids can benefit through preparing fresh fruits and vegetables. Her detailed and descriptive dialogue about different aspects of the fresh ingredients showed that her ability to make fine food was not merely about following directions in a recipe. She knows tastes and how combinations of flavors result in different outcomes. These few words do very little to fully describe her culinary knowledge and competence. Visit her website to learn more about this aspiring young chef.

Tim's Peach Cobbler in a Cast Iron Skillet
But back to the big picture.Think about it. We all want our kids to be creative, responsible, articulate, and confident. So if a child decides (which is a skill in and of itself) to make Eliana’s Creole Pasta Primavera, he or she needs to know what ingredients to buy, how much to buy, how to read and/or understand the recipe, and how to follow the directions. During the process, if a problem arises or help is needed, the child has to know what questions and when to ask them. Later, the evaluation process starts. Did this recipe make enough for our family?  Did I allow enough time? Did I like the flavors, or would I add or delete something? Will I make this again? And so on. But so many opportunities to think and do so many things.

All four of my kids cook. When I first started letting my kids help in the kitchen, all I could think was “Wow, Mom was right!  This is crazy! What was I thinking?!” The messes, the mistakes, the tears (mine and theirs,) and the frustration was almost too much. Marc’s first cookbook was Julia Child’s French Cooking, and he decided on Beef Bourguignon. Hours later, many questions, decisions, and so on, he finally finished. (It got so late that we ‘punted’ and had pizza for dinner.) But, reading a footnote in the recipe, Marc discovered that in Julia’s opinion, this recipe was better tasting if eaten the following day! And yes, it was very good the next day!  No leftovers. Tim’s first attempt was peach cobbler in an iron skillet. Yikes….again, endless hours, crazy questions, and AMAZING peach cobbler!

So was it worth it? YES!!

Will my kids be as proficient in the kitchen as Eliana? Ummm, no, not even close. But are they more creative, independent and willing to try now that they have had kitchen time? Most definitely! Besides music lessons, few things have been as beneficial to my children’s learning process as cooking. And most often it has involved fresh fruits and vegetables.  

In my next post I will say a few things about how kids cooking can have far reaching effects on the family life as well.  But for now, get your children in the kitchen!  

If you have similar stories about your own experiences, I want to hear about them! Send them to

Friday, June 27, 2014

Just Make Friends!

Photo Credit: United Fresh Produce Association

It was just about two weeks ago that I returned from Chicago where I attended the United Fresh Convention. Companies definitely seemed to bring their best game to the trade show floor. Seeing all the bright and beautiful displays of all sorts of produce made me reflect on the sad fact that really there just isn't enough time at home to try and cook with these natural products. It’s not uncommon when loading a produce mixer to have a customer include specialty produce items, so when I get to a convention such as this I get to see what these unique fruits and vegetables look like. Sometimes we even get to taste them!

Spending time and money on a convention is a good thing for many reasons. Meeting new people, connecting with friends, learning the latest news on current issues, and gaining fresh perspectives on familiar topics all are important elements of a trade show for any person working in the industry.  I enjoyed all of these aspects. Most valuable to me, however, were three different experiences that either strengthened me as a person or bolstered my commitment to keep pursuing the vision that I have for this company.

Within the first two days I had the opportunity to meet some of the people who my father considers some of his good friends. On the second day my son and I had the privilege of meeting and interacting with Kid Chef Eliana and her family. And on the last day, the last thing I did was listen to five women discuss the issues that are part of being a female in the produce industry.  

As I started to write this particular blog, I quickly realized that to fully define why these segments of the show were so significant I would need to do this in three separate posts. Today I start with meeting dad’s friends.

Dad has been in the produce industry since time began. Over the years he has accumulated many acquaintances, but few of these have risen to the top of his mind as a ‘good friend.’ These would include people that are trustworthy, and have trusted him. They are individuals who welcome his advice and willingly offer up their own when he is in need. The shared history between these individuals includes projects or business endeavors that were not always pursued for financial gain. More often it was for the pure fun and excitement of doing something valuable and worthwhile together with people that share the same vision and passion for doing a job well done.  

After thinking about these conversations with dad’s friends, these were my observations/learning outcomes:

Takeaway #1: If I want to fill Dad’s shoes, be a friend first. My career path, my ability to run a truck brokerage, my experience and history of participation in the produce industry, etc are all important, but in the end, people remember the person first.

It was a pleasure to talk to people about someone we both respect and enjoy.  I have learned quite a bit from my father, but I have much ahead to gain from his insight and experience. In my conversations with these individuals I could totally relate to how they feel about his vast knowledge on many topics. All of them seemed appreciative of his interest in helping them as often as he was able in whatever capacity they needed. I too have been the beneficiary of these attributes my dad routinely demonstrates.  

Takeaway #2:  People at ‘the top’ are genuine and open. Aspire to be like them.

I had the incredible privilege of conversing with people who were very educated and experienced in their own right. There is a reason that Dad respects these individuals, and just by introducing myself as his daughter I was welcomed and engaged as one of their peers. Perhaps their enthusiasm for knowing my father was the reason for their friendly reception. I was not trying to meet them to gain some advantage for my business, but rather, to learn more about the friends for whom Dad holds deep admiration. Their warmth and sincere interest in our conversation showed me that people at all levels in their careers and positions in their respective companies are for real and do not seem influenced in a negative way by their own accomplishments.

Takeaway #3  Be yourself, and be sincerely interested in others.

Because these men enjoyed talking about Jim, I had the opportunity to practice talking to people in a non-threatening environment. Ok, true, I wasn't completely relaxed because I knew I was representing my father in a way. Of course I didn't want them to think that THIS apple fell too far from the tree.  But because I was focused on maintaining meaningful dialogue, absent any pressure to be anything other than myself, it was a very enjoyable exchange with everyone.  Growing up my siblings and I would watch my father initiate many conversations with complete strangers. This was routine at all events.  He would come home with stories about these people and always seemed so impressed with the things he learned about them.  It was because he was himself, and always, and I mean without fail, used every chance he got to talk to people about what was important to them.  

When I leave for a trade show or an industry meeting, Dad’s advice is always, “Just go and make friends.” Because of his example, and opportunities to follow his advice, I now have some new friends.