How do we define our purpose?
I’ve asked myself—and others—some form of this question many, many times over the years. Life can sometimes feel like an aimless outward spiral, with new complexities uncovered at every turn. As such, I’ve found that this question can be answered in many ways, and the explanation will be different with each person you ask.
After nearly 25 years on this planet, one thing I can say for sure is I was born to be a writer. I penned my first book in elementary school and wrote down “Dreams of Being Editor in Chief” by sixth grade. From a young age, I truly did not see any other path forward.
Is writing “my purpose?” The jury is still out on that one; but, I know without a shadow of a doubt that I am on the path I was meant to be on.
I can say the same for the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board’s (MAAB) new Executive Director, Jamie Clover Adams, who was appointed to the position last April. I identify with the purposeful role Jamie plays, as each of our careers tap into our innate talents while serving the produce industry at the same time.
“A mentor of mine once told me that luck is when opportunity and preparation meet. That was my path to serving Michigan asparagus growers,” Jamie told me. “We have a robust production research program in partnership with Michigan State University, which was built by my predecessor, John Bakker, and continues to this day. The asparagus industry, however, is at a juncture where policy and marketing have taken center stage—areas where my background can help the industry grapple with the impact of imports and the cost of labor on producer bottom lines.”
Prior to joining the MAAB team, Jamie spent nearly three years as the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Chief of Staff for Farm Production and Conservation. She served as a fierce champion of farmers and ranchers in the U.S. and worked with an outstanding team of both political and career professionals. As an example of her impact, Jamie remotely led the end-to-end launch of the organization’s $16 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.
“At the USDA, we accomplished a lot for America’s farmers and ranchers by focusing on the customer, working with a sense of urgency, and delving into the operational infrastructure to make things work more efficiently. From my position as the de facto operational leader of an organization with nearly 25,000 employees in 2,500 offices across the U.S., I learned what it takes to run a large, bureaucratic organization, how to strategically focus on what really matters, and the importance of listening and bringing people together to solve problems,” Jamie said.
I like to think that one’s purpose runs deep within their veins. Without knowing it, we often make decisions that guide us in the direction of our destiny. Before Jamie even stepped foot in fresh produce, she recognized an opportunity to strengthen the industry’s standing at the government level.
“I learned there is not a significant understanding of the produce industry inside the USDA, except for at the Agricultural Marketing Service. I am hopeful we laid the groundwork for a greater understanding going forward,” she added.
With this unique perspective in her back pocket, Jamie will be forging a path toward increased awareness of Michigan asparagus. Her professional experience prior to her current role opened the doors to a new level of understanding, allowing Jamie to tackle any challenges that may come her way.
“The asparagus industry, however, is at a juncture where policy and marketing have taken center stage—areas where my background can help the industry grapple with the impact of imports and the cost of labor on producer bottom lines.”
Jamie Clover Adams, Executive Director, Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board
Jamie’s roots are lovingly intertwined with those of Michigan’s agricultural sector. In early 2012, she worked as the Director of Policy, Quality of Life Group at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Later that year, she took on the position of Director at the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, a role which she held until joining the USDA in 2018.
“My work leading two state agriculture departments as well as my time at USDA provided wide-ranging experiences and learning opportunities across many different issues,” Jamie explained. “I’ve also met and worked with many talented people through the years—folks I can call on when working through issues that face our industry.”
In the past year that Jamie has manned the helm as Executive Director, she has already fostered a deep appreciation for the asparagus sector and its purveyors. As she told me, MAAB was formed by a group of growers in the 1980s, and the organization’s main purpose is to fund asparagus research and promotion.
“I am a one-person show working with a marketing firm on our promotion programs and with Michigan State University coordinating important production research,” she stated. “I have been laser-focused on improving our growers’ bottom line in multiple areas: cost and availability of labor, as asparagus is a hand-harvested crop; promotion of a crop that is available as fresh for eight weeks a year and in stiff competition with imports from low-wage regions of the world; and addressing ever-increasing weed and disease pressures.”
Jamie relayed that by working with industry partners, her goals are to secure more sustainable harvesting costs for MAAB growers through wage rates and/or mechanization and find ways to increase grower returns at retail.
"I have been laser-focused on improving our growers’ bottom line in multiple areas...”
“My biggest challenge so far has been determining how to tell the Michigan asparagus story in a way that resonates with retailers and consumers. I continue to look for more information and ideas to refine and improve my pitch,” she noted. “The biggest personal reward has been meeting and getting to know asparagus growers. They are a group of very strategic and forward-thinking business people who are continually looking for opportunities to innovate. They keep me on my toes.”
On top of this, Jamie informed me that the team provides a fantastic and truly one-of-a-kind product.
“Michigan asparagus is a flavor-filled, nutrient-dense, low-calorie vegetable. It is great on the grill and as a side dish to your favorite protein (in my case, beef) or included with a breakfast quiche or cooked in an air fryer,” Jamie said. “Michigan asparagus is sustainable. It’s one to four days old when purchased and is watered by Mother Nature. Michigan’s asparagus growers are reliable suppliers with decades of expertise raising the crop.”
Having grown up on a farm, Jamie has the unique ability to elevate and spotlight what is most important to the fresh produce growers she represents. Similar to my own early writings, the catalyst to her career as an ag advocate began when she was just a child. Her boots-on-the-ground understanding of a farm bloomed into a life led by purpose.
“The personal values instilled in me by my folks track with the growers and Board Members I serve. Asparagus growers must provide customers with a safe, nutritious product, or they will turn to someone else. Integrity and commitment to the product keep consumers coming back for Michigan asparagus,” Jamie continued.
As our conversation wound down, I couldn’t help but revisit my own definition of purpose. Is it possible to map out an entire path forward by taking one simple step? Jamie’s journey to produce puts the proof—or purpose—in the pudding.
“My new role aligns nicely with a fundamental concept articulated and practiced in the Administration of my former boss, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder: relentless positive action. The produce industry is complex, with many moving parts, challenges, and problems to solve. It’s fun to get up every day and work relentlessly to solve the problems my growers face and to work collaboratively with others to address challenges,” Jamie concluded. “I am passionate about telling the asparagus story—our forward-thinking growers and our tasty and nutritious product—and being part of the larger effort to increase vegetables in American diets. It’s gratifying to be a part of an industry that produces a product that can truly make a positive difference in people’s lives.”
I cannot think of a more perfect way to sum up the produce industry’s mission statement. You could even argue that this positive action Jamie speaks of is the very purpose of our beloved fresh produce industry—but that is a musing for another day.
"The produce industry is complex, with many moving parts, challenges, and problems to solve. It’s fun to get up every day and work relentlessly to solve the problems my growers face and to work collaboratively with others to address challenges."
Let us find comfort in the fact that even though our own definitions of “purpose” may differ, we are all inarguably leading purposeful lives simply by chasing after our passions.
Writer, Executive Director, or otherwise, we are on the right path.