Garland Perkins, The Oppenheimer Group
Garland Perkins, The Oppenheimer Group

October has been quite a produce-filled month, beginning with the Fresh Produce and Floral Council Southern California luncheon and apprentice program meeting and concluding with the Tour de Fresh bike ride leading into the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit 2014.

This month particularly made me take notice of commendable initiatives taking place in the industry, as well as the increasing attention paid to millennials.

During the first few years of my career I was often the youngest person in professional settings and went through copious learning experiences that were instrumental in shaping my path in produce.

These days I am working with peers more, as well as people with extensive experience, and I don’t feel quite as “green” as I once did. Besides simply having a few years under my belt, mentors I’ve been fortunate to have along the way undoubtedly expedited my transition to feeling like a capable and qualified employee rather than a student.

The PMA Career Pathways and FPFC Apprentice Program are primary examples of how the produce industry is taking notable strides to train and retain young talent so they continue to propel our industry to new heights in the future.

I am privileged to have been a participant in these programs, both of which positively impacted my professional journey.

During the Career Pathways Program, my incredible experience with mentor Tonya Antle made my first Fresh Summit an eye-opening and exhilarating experience that instilled a passion for produce.

Soon thereafter I was informed through a communication associated with the Pathways Program of a job opening with The Oppenheimer Group, which I eventually accepted — a true testament to “never knowing where things might lead.”

The inaugural FPFC Apprentice Program, designed for individuals who have been in the produce industry for seven years or less, concludes in January when our class of 12 will graduate at the annual dinner dance.

Thus far the educational sessions, assignments, field trips and networking opportunities have provided our class with industry wisdom, a behind-the-scenes look into multiple arenas and have even opened doors for new business for many of us (which goes a long way when you are a young person trying to make your mark!).

The Tour de Fresh, a four-day cycling event that raised funds benefiting the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools campaign, took place for the first time before Fresh Summit. It was unquestionably the most physically challenging thing I have done, but was even more rewarding and memorable.

Riders consisted of young and older people, many with noteworthy influence in the industry as well as a few millennals such as myself. We rode 275 miles from Carmel, Calif., to Anaheim, Calif., which allowed plenty of time to get to know one another.

In addition to sharing an unbelievable experience with the group, it was inspiring to meet many people who love what they do and have a sincere appreciation for working in produce.

I am convinced this passion, coupled with a unique line of work that attracts exceptional individuals, fuels endeavors like the Tour de Fresh, an initiative that began as an ambitious idea and resulted in a surpassed fundraising goal and 42 salad bar donations to schools!

During the California Grocers Association conference in September I overheard someone comment “It’s a millennial world — I just live in it.”

This remark is both humorous and telling, as it displays the attention the industry is paying to millennials.

From training programs to consumer insights, the strides the industry is taking will be beneficial on many accounts in the future. As a millennial and a person working in produce, I am grateful to take part in this journey.

Garland Perkins writes a monthly column on the produce industry from the millennial perspective. She works in marketing for The Oppenheimer Group in its Los Angeles office.

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