I had the chance to chat on Jan. 22 with Tom Yawman, founder of International Produce Training, Stafford, Va.,
3:28 p.m. Tom Karst: Thanks for making time today for a chat. For readers who don't know what International Produce Training Training is, what is the 25 cent explanation?
3:29 p.m. Tom Yawman: IPT is International Produce Training, where we provide a training service to all facets of the produce industry regarding the inspection of fresh produce.
3:30 p.m. Karst: When did your association with fresh produce inspection begin? What has been your career path so far?
3:33 p.m. Yawman: Well first off, thanks for having me. I began my inspection career in 1976 with the state of New York. I began my federal career in 1979 with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, working as a produce inspector in Philly. I since have moved around the northeast as a supervisor for the USDA in Harrisburg, PA, and Albany, NY, and concluding as a USDA trainer at the Training and Development Center in VA. I founded in IPT about two years ago. It is has been quite a ride.
3:34 p.m. Karst: You do know the lay of the land. Why did you see the need for you business and what can you offer produce companies today that is important to them?
3:37 p.m. Yawman: As a trainer for the USDA we provided training classes to the industry. I was able to see the pros and cons of their training program. I formed IPT as a way where the industry has direct input into the design of the training classes. With my help we design the course agenda, selecting their commodities that interest them and we decide on the training style.....either a classroom setting or a hands on approach.
3:39 p.m. Karst: Having been a part of the USDA inspection program, what do you think are there biggest strengths right now and what areas do you think are challenging for them?
3:41 p.m. Yawman: I was able to get to know the majority of the inspectors and I can honestly say they have a great work ethic and would do anything possible for the good of the industry. The major hurdle facing the USDA will be the money issue. Being able to provide all the necessary training and supervision will be challenging.
3:45 p.m. Karst: I enjoyed reading your blog post about your memories of Operation Forbidden Fruit at the Hunts Point market. When did you first hear about the operation? Tell the readers what it was like during that time...
3:49 p.m. Yawman: It was a day I will never forget. I was in Aspers, Penn., supervising an inspector at Rice Fruit Co, when I received a call from my supervisor. I was told there was an arrest made at Hunts Point and the majority of the inspectors were charged with racketeering. I immediately left PA, drove to my home in Albany, N.Y., packed up some clothes and headed to Hunts Point the next morning to be one of a few inspectors on the market. It was a very tough time in the market. All the vendors had heard of the FBI raid and the USDA was really under some intense pressure to show our integrity and pride.
3:51 p.m. Karst: I can imagine that was tough. Considering all that has happened since - the investment in the service and changes - is it safe to say something like that won't ever happen again? I know that's a tough question and maybe unfair, but what is your sense about that?
3:56 p.m. Yawman: Let's hope not. After the HP scandal Congress gave the USDA about $39M to make infrastructure improvements. The training center was built, laptop computers were started, and increased training and supervisory procedures were put in place. But now with the lack of inspection revenue, the training center has been reduced in size, the training classes have been trimmed back and the personnel has been cut back, so the supervisory checks will not be as they were. Again, I hope nothing ever happens again.
3:58 p.m. Karst: Amen to that. One more question and I will let you go. As you start the new year, what are you excited about? What's in your "inbox", your "to-do list" What energizes you right now?
4:01 p.m. And, by the way, where can readers find your Web site?
Yawman: I am really looking forward to this year. I have teamed up with Southeast Produce Council, who will be hosting two of my training classes this year. They have opened their registration up to not only their members but to everyone. The registration fees they are charging are extremely low, charging no fees to their members and only a small registration fee which includes a membership into the Southeast Produce Council. This will be a great opportunity for everyone to receive very affordable training.
4:02 p.m. Thanks Tom.. My web site is: www.ipt.us.com
Karst: Sure. Thanks again for your time, Tom.