Peruvian Onions

Mentors in the Making: Christina Barnard

hristina Barnard was born for produce. When we talk about that passion for fresh produce being in your blood, we are speaking about people just like her. Christina’s love of the land and dedication to the industry are contagious and–as many who know her can testify–her energy is unrivaled. 

Growing up on a produce farm in Clackamas, Oregon, Christina worked alongside her older brother and sister in the fields and in the family’s packing shed every summer from as early as she could remember. She then followed in her brother’s footsteps and attended Cal Poly as an Agricultural Business Major.

“I spent the summer after my junior year living in Salinas, California, and interning for Fresh Express,” Christina shares with me. “Early in my senior year one of my ag teachers approached me about attending PMA Fresh Summit through the Pack Family Careers Pathway program. Looking back, I could not have dreamed what was in store for me.”

Enter some of the biggest influences in her adult life, and a world of agriculture beyond the family farm: Jay Pack, Co-Founder of Pack Career Pathways and Founder of The Pack Group; Mark Campion, President of Taylor Farms Retail, Inc.; and Nancy Johnston, Sr. Manager, Produce Sales, Sysco.

“I love what I do every day. Working to provide healthy, great-tasting products to consumers is my dream job and being surrounded by mentors that include Mark, Nancy, Jay, and so many more, make it all the more enjoyable,” Christina says. “I significantly value the relationship of each of these individuals as they’ve all greatly impacted my life, both professionally and personally. I know I can call on each for advice or walk into their office for guidance in a tough situation, and they will deliver an honest answer that not many have the courage to provide. Each are a true testament to the amazing community of folks in our industry and I’m honored to call each my friend.” 

Christina originally met Jay while she was a Pack Family Careers Pathway student. His passion for the industry and desire to attract new talent was clear. Jay put his money where his mind and mouth were; building a program for young students interested in ag.

Christina is forever grateful to Jay and his family for founding the Pack Family Careers Pathway Program, and she adds that participating in the program secured fresh produce, outside of Oregon, as her future career and passion.

Through the Pack Career Pathways program, Christina also met Steve Barnard, the President and CEO of Mission Produce Inc., who, she tells me, played a significant role in helping her define her own path.

And if you haven’t noticed the parallel in names, Steve influenced more than just her professional life.

“Oddly enough, he introduced me to my now-husband, Ben Barnard, and Steve is now my father-in-law,” she says, smiling at the memory. “Quite possibly, this is part of the beauty of our industry. I was paired with Steve at PMA through Jay’s program and we immediately clicked. Steve completely embraced me, took me to every dinner meeting he had, and walked me all around the show floor.”

Christina interned for Mission Produce the summer following her senior year of college after Career Pathways and was hooked.

The rest, she tells me, is history. Well, almost…The next fork in her road came with a little company called Taylor Farms. 

“Mark Campion was my first interview out of college and I remember, as we were finishing up, I let him know how much I appreciated the interview and if we didn’t end up working together, I’d still see him around because I knew this was the career path for me,” she says. “Mark is a phenomenal leader, and every year he’s only gotten better. I admire his continual drive for improvement and it’s always rubbed off on me, and quite honestly, on our entire retail division. He’s been a great support system both professionally and personally, always pushing me to reach a new potential. Ask for forgiveness, not for permission; that’s what he’s always told me.” 

Another of those individuals who has had an incredible impact on Christina’s life is Nancy Johnston.

“From the first moment I met Nancy, I knew we were destined to be friends. Her energy and enthusiasm were contagious, and the more I got to know her, the more I admired, and respected her. People are drawn to Nancy. Immediately, she took me under her wing and introduced me to everyone at shows and events. She’s a great balance of fun and professionalism—just what I want to emulate,” Christina tells me. “Nancy asks the tough questions, she’s direct and gets the job done—and that’s what she’s taught me.”

When I ask Christina what sets the relationships with her mentors apart from others, she pauses.

“Complete trust,” she says. “I know they believe in me.”

It is easy to see that each and every one of them do. All have watched her grow personally and professionally, attended her wedding, celebrated the arrival of her firstborn with number two now on the way, and shared in many of her life’s milestones. 

“With support like this, I cannot imagine another career,” she shares.

And we, in turn, cannot imagine ours without her.

Here is what they have to say about Christina Barnard ...

Jay Pack, Co-Founder, Pack Family Career Pathways and Founder, The Pack GroupWhen the Pack Career Pathway Program was initially launched in conjunction with PMA over 12 years ago, who would have known that one of the very first students would exemplify the very objective of the program? After initially meeting and spending time with Christina, it became quite apparent that she was bright, articulate, mature, and fun. What I didn’t know is that 12 years later, Christina would have a successful career with Taylor Farms, become a wonderful wife and mother, and a close friend of our entire family. We are so proud of Christina’s accomplishments, success, and achievements in the produce industry.

Mark Campion, President, Taylor Farms Retail Inc.It’s hard for me to believe Christina has been at Taylor Farms for almost ten years. She shows up everyday with the same enthusiasm she had on day one. Her attitude in the office is infectious. She started in sales and quickly moved into a marketing role. From Christina’s first day, it was clear she had the drive, aptitude, and confidence to do great things. Our marketing direction at the time was largely undefined and was not a core competency of the company. Christina jumped in and blazed her own trail. She had the curiosity and capability to educate herself and implement her learnings at work. Our social and digital marketing platforms are largely the result of
her hard work and education.

Watching her grow into a company, and industry, leader while starting her young family has been a great pleasure. Christina and I have shared many long chats over the years. Christina allows herself to be coached and is a good listener. I have always been able to be open and honest with her, because her commitment to Taylor Farms, our customers, and our co-workers is unquestionable. Taylor Farms, Ben, and our industry are lucky to have her!

Nancy Johnston, Sr. Manager, Produce Sales, SyscoI have spent the last several years watching her grow from a young college graduate who was new to the industry, to marrying her best friend and becoming an amazing mother, all while growing in her career. The coaching I gave her was that there is no such thing as a job description in our industry. Wake up every morning, show up, complete whatever tasks show up on your desk that day, and know that everyday it is something different. Be a sponge with every produce person you meet, and always ask for what you want. Christina brings enthusiasm and heart to the industry in a way that will help keep our business moving forward. Christina has learned that relationships are key to our industry and that it is so important never to burn any bridges, as you never know when you may need someone’s help or they may need yours. I look forward to Christina becoming an industry leader for her peers and taking the produce industry to the next level. I will be the first person in her corner cheering her on.