Jessica Peri loves horses.
It’s one of the last things she tells me as our discussion comes to a close, but it stampedes through my mind—shaking the landscape of my thoughts, sending a jolt of unbridled energy through the air, and kicking up a fine mist of realization that settles in its wake.
While it seems like an interesting, albeit random, fact to spark such deep contemplation in Jessica’s passion for the animals, a new image of the Peri & Sons Farms Sales Manager becomes clear.
"It is a very challenging business, from production problems, quality concerns, and truck issues to weather changes and labor matters—the list goes on and on. I have learned to roll with it, solve the problems, and move forward."
Jessica Peri, Sales Manager, Peri & Sons Farms
Throughout history and across the worlds of storytelling, horses represent an array of noble characteristics, including intelligence, instinct, freedom, connectedness with the earth, strength, and loyalty. If I weren’t the one writing these words, I might have thought you were describing Jessica herself.
These distinct traits become evident from the start of our conversation as she retells her own origin story, one that intertwines with her family. What began with immigrants who migrated from Italy to the U.S., planting the seed of a steadfast work ethic and dedication, would soon be infused into every generation thereafter, right down to Jessica.
“My great-grandparents immigrated from Italy and were farmers and ranchers outside of Reno, Nevada,” Jessica begins. “My grandparents farmed that same ranch, and I spent a lot of time with them growing up. I was always helping, sometimes driving a tractor to burn ditches or heading up the canyon on horseback to check on cattle. My dad also loved farming, so that is the direction he took. It’s in my blood.”
Having spent a short stint in Reno myself, I can easily picture a young Jessica saddling up her horse to ride through the sagebrush of the high desert, the wind whipping through her hair like a character from a Western as she climbed the small mountains that dot the otherwise flat plains. In this image of her childhood, I see how a love for nature and farming implanted itself in her and grew as she got older.
However, like many with a lineage rooted in fresh produce, joining her family’s business Peri & Sons wasn’t always the plan for Jessica. Instead, she had imagined herself transplanting to the big city to start her career in business.
“I knew I wanted to study business, and I always wanted to be a marketer. I just thought I would have some fancy job in a city,” explains Jessica. “But marketing onions turned out to be much more glamorous and rewarding than I ever could have imagined.”
During college, a shift began to take place. It started slowly at first and then in one large jolt as she finished an unassuming assignment that would completely change her path.
“I was given an assignment my junior year of college to learn about a company’s succession plan, and I chose my family’s company, Peri & Sons. At the time, I had not given any thought whatsoever to working for my dad, but after asking him what would happen to the farm after he was too old to work, he simply said, ‘I guess I will sell it,’ and that was it for me,” Jessica tells me about the fateful happening. “I couldn’t let that happen. It was a few short weeks later that I asked if I could go to work for the family business after college.”
With an upbringing imbued with fresh produce knowledge and a newly evolved education in business, Jessica officially began her career at Peri & Sons, taking the first steps in the career that would lead her to where she is today.
"My family instilled a tremendous awareness of the value of hard work. It was not that they hammered it into me; it’s something I learned by watching my family work hard their entire lives for what they have."
Although armed with unique talents and a penchant for the family business, Jessica faced some turbulent moments as she made her official foray into the industry—dealing with the wrinkles that many of us iron out as we grow into ourselves and our new environments. But, like riding a horse, it took patience, skill, and strength to overcome the challenges that she first faced.
“When I started, I was so emotional about everything. A quality rejection would have me in tears. Rejection from a target customer—anguish. But, I have learned to take everything in stride. I have become much more analytical and can take a step back to resolve issues,” Jessica says.
Our industry is one that is constantly in flux with the possibility of seeing several small upheavals just before lunchtime, so Jessica’s sentiment immediately hits home. And so does her advice, a practice in self-awareness and reasoning.
“I used to shoot from the hip and pop off much quicker,” she explains. “I guess you can say I learned to relax and deal with the issues as they come, because they come often. It is a very challenging business, from production problems, quality concerns, and truck issues to weather changes and labor matters—the list goes on and on. I have learned to roll with it, solve the problems, and move forward.”
Through it all, one thing that has driven Jessica to make strides while striving for the best for Peri & Sons is a quality that takes some people a lifetime to hone. That quality—her work ethic—is another key facet of an upbringing that has guided Jessica throughout her career.
“My family instilled a tremendous awareness of the value of hard work,” Jessica elaborates. “It was not that they hammered it into me; it’s something I learned by watching my family work hard their entire lives for what they have.”
With a tenacity of spirit and an evolving handle on the inner workings of the industry, Jessica learned to wield her abilities to advance Peri & Sons. After starting in sales in 2005, Jessica then began to develop a marketing program to take the company to the next level.
This was no easy feat.
With a mind set on creating a thriving marketing program, Jessica took to every single industry event to learn as much as she could about the fresh produce business. During that time, she formed as many industry connections as possible, and the hustle eventually paid off.
“I was running around like a crazy person,” she explains. “While it is still like that today, we have a much larger, very talented team to help carry out the vision. I light up every time I see our products at retail, which is often, because my own local grocery store carries our onions year-round.”
Providing products 365 days of the year is just one of the many accomplishments that have taken place during Jessica’s tenure with her family’s business. Since her official start, Peri & Sons has grown by over 300 percent and has established itself as an operation constantly pushing for evolution.
When Jessica begins talking about the grower’s achievements, she refers to the business as a “company of firsts,” having become one of the first to be certified Pesticide Residue Free and to be Food Safety, GLOBALG.A.P., and Sustainably Certified. But all of this is just the beginning, as Jessica sees nothing but open horizons for Peri & Sons.
"We are an industry leader, and we will continue to push our company with the highest standards possible."
“We are an industry leader, and we will continue to push our company with the highest standards possible,” she passionately voices. “I personally will continue to focus on new product innovation, production flow and efficiencies, sustainable packaging, sales programs, and marketing.”
As Jessica continues to make her mark on the industry by doing what she loves, every leader needs a little down time to give their constantly churning minds a reprieve. Besides spending time with her growing children, soaking in the memories, I bet you can guess her other response when I ask about her passions outside of the industry.
“Horseback riding,” she says with a smile.
Before my eyes, the young girl that I could so clearly picture trotting through the desert on her horse transforms into the woman before me, wiser and with a deepened passion for the industry that blossomed from the seed planted in her childhood. And just like the creature she rides upon in my vision, a symbol of instinct and intelligence cantering through the brush, Jessica has an intuition of her own—something drawing her toward the horizon that she alone has the ability to see.