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Ensuring Produce's Future

Two of my biggest passions within produce are lifting up the women in our industry and ensuring that we find the right people to do the job in the next generation.


Nancy Johnston, Senior Manager Produce Sales, SyscoTo do a job that is 24/7 rather than nine-to-five, you have to have passion. In produce, there is an opportunity not just to welcome a new generation to the industry, but also to help create this passion in people. And there is an even greater opportunity to foster growth in women: by meeting them with support. Existing programs looking to do this are the Produce Marketing Association’s (PMA) Career Pathways Program and Women's Fresh Perspectives Conference, as well as Southeast Produce Council’s (SEPC) Southern Roots Women's Luncheon.


I love participating in Career Pathways because I get to challenge prospective produce professionals to find what they love in our industry. I wanted to be a produce broker because my grandfather was a produce broker, and my dad worked in the industry through college. But what about winning over both the younger adults who come from agriculture and the ones who don’t? How do we as an industry come together to entice people joining the workforce to be a part of our companies?

...now the children of millennials are asking for the Brussels sprouts we hated as kids. How do we keep that momentum going?

- Nancy Johnston, Senior Manager Produce Sales, Sysco

One of the things I do when I get a student through Career Pathways is give them four or five questions to ask different suppliers like: What is the company? Where is it based? What are the products they have? What do they see when they look at where they are going next?

Career Pathways does a great job of this in my opinion, and I think we could see even more success if we looked to increase our presence on campuses for ag-related schools as well as non-ag. I come from a produce background and learned from several mentors at a number of companies before I came to work for FreshPoint, which was then acquired by Sysco. And here I am 19 years later, having done sales, procurement, and seeing my job move into marketing and business development for Sysco produce, which I love. I love my customers and working with all of our companies. My journey is just one way to help take our industry to the next level, and I’m really excited to see where it goes next!

To do a job that is 24/7 rather than nine-to-five, you have to have passion. In produce, there is an opportunity not just to welcome a new generation to the industry, but also to help create this passion in people.

One of the newest things I’ve seen during my role in foodservice is how much more daring the new generations’ palates are. My son, who is also in the industry, making him a fourth-generation produce professional, has been a much more adventurous eater than I ever was, and now the children of millennials are asking for the Brussels sprouts we hated as kids. How do we keep that momentum going?


Lastly, wouldn’t it be great to bring prospective hires into a room and have them shaking hands with powerful men and women? Bringing female students to events like Southern Roots and the Womens Fresh Perspectives Conference could be an even bigger step in bringing more passion and more women into our industry.


One of the things that excites me when I come home to Salinas, California, is when all the produce trucks are there reminding me of my role in feeding the world. If we weren’t there to answer the phone on Labor Day when a shipment didn’t arrive, people wouldn’t eat. And finding those who not only recognize that, but also take pride in it, is the next thing we have to task ourselves with to see where produce can really go.