One of the most rewarding roles that naturally evolved for me at Earthbound Farm is that of a mentor to those striving to become leaders in our company. 

Sharing real-life marketing in the classroom

Tonya Antle
Earthbound Farm

I am always so proud when one of our junior staff members is promoted and given the opportunity to take on further responsibilities while continuing to achieve their personal goals.   

Recently, I had the opportunity to extend my cherished mentor role into another important venue. I was flattered by a call that I received a year ago from Professor Marlin Vix, a long-standing member of the Cal Poly faculty in the agribusiness department at San Luis Obispo. 

I had been an invited guest lecturer over the years in his class, but this particular call was to offer me the role as Adjunct Professor for this senior level fresh fruit and vegetable marketing course.

Always one to take on a new challenge, I accepted Professor Vix’s passing of the baton. The time commitment was rather extensive, but the benefit of giving back made it all worth it. 

Spring quarter started in late March with finals finishing in early June. It seemed to go much faster than the calendar showed, but don’t most exciting and engaging projects?   

The class consisted of two students from the ag business masters program and the balance senior level students. What a breath of fresh air it was to meet and work with these eager, enthusiastic and bright young men and women so ready and willing to learn from my 28 plus years as an ag professional. 

Because this class was set up as a seminar, I got to take students through a group-study of the fresh fruit and vegetable industry, from f.o.b. shipping point to the retail shelves.   

To support my lectures, I invited industry experts to offer their real life stories and experience from the field.
We started with David Krause, president of Delano, Calif.-based Paramount Citrus, and concluded with Paul Dzieozic, director of produce operations for Scolari’s Food and Drug. 

Each of our speakers not only gave the students a look into their companies’ marketing programs, but also explained the extraordinary demands of a career in produce. 

The speakers explained the importance of applicable life skills that directly relate to what they would be looking for in a potential intern or employee. Collectively all of them exuded a passion and love for our industry, which helped the students grasp how lucky they would be if given the chance to join in. 

Xiaowei Cai, who observed and assisted me with the administrative duties of this class said, “This class provided a tremendous opportunity for our students to be able to learn from industry professionals about real practices, which they later applied in the culmination of their final project ‘The Produce Show’ at the end of the quarter.” 

I was particularly proud after reading one student’s review of the class: “Thank you, Professor Antle, for providing one of the best class experiences in my four years at Poly. I loved learning from you, as well as all of the other speakers, about how very passionate the produce industry really is. I had not originally thought of pursuing a career in fresh produce, but now I can’t wait to have my opportunity to join in all this excitement after college.”

This comment brought home that my efforts paid off. 

After a long and successful career in the produce industry, it seemed only appropriate to pass on my experiences and knowledge to the next generation of our industry’s professionals. 

I am inspired knowing that the future of our industry will be left to this extremely professional and eager generation of young men and women who I am sure will strive for success.   

I am a firm believer in becoming a mentor as a way to give back to the industry that has taught me so much. I am confident that I will continue to hear great things from my first class of students, and hope they pass the word on to their peers as I begin planning for the 2011 spring class.

Tonya Antle is trade ambassador for Earthbound Farm, San Juan Bautista, Calif.

How do you and your company give back to the industry? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.