Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Women in Business

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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 pamyoung@pamyoung.com

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!

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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 pamyoung@pamyoung.com