Straight from the fields

Mentors in the Making

W hen you know, you know. A phrase we’ve all heard before.

Some of us have even been lucky enough to experience it. That sensation of ease and validation that comes from knowing you are doing exactly what fate intended for you is what Sabrina Pokomandy, Account Manager at Highline Mushrooms, felt as she entered the fresh produce industry.

While Sabrina’s love for fresh produce took root later on in life, her admiration of food was the initial spark that would eventually light that flame, and it all started in childhood.

Growing up, Sabrina’s father was a chef by trade, opening her eyes to the culinary world, while her mother taught her about authentic, seasonal, and fresh ingredients right from their home kitchen. From those moments on, Sabrina carried the lessons into what would become a successful industry career.

However, before making her official entry into fresh, Sabrina developed a penchant for food while working in the hospitality sector, fanning the flame that would grow in intensity by a suggestion from her husband, Harold Paivarinta.

“After college, I worked in sales, marketing, and public relations for the luxury hotel sector. It was there my passion for food met my ability to promote flavors and the gastronomic experience, and I was hooked,” she tells me. “Later, my husband approached me with the idea to transition over to fresh produce. When the opportunity to promote healthy, diverse ingredients presented itself, I was excited to experience this new perspective of marketing and took the plunge. I began my produce career in marketing and public relations for a greenhouse vegetable grower/shipper, where I worked until I joined Highline Mushrooms.”

Fast forward to today, and Sabrina has been working at Highline Mushrooms for four years, making the leap from the world of tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers to what she so fondly references as “the wonderful world of mushrooms,” and she could not be happier with the decision.

“My role at Highline Mushrooms provides me with the opportunity to collaborate, innovate, and work directly with retail and foodservice partners—a blend of all the things I love,” Sabrina enthusiastically explains.

Seeing Sabrina beaming over her passion for her career at Highline, I had to find out exactly when she discovered that fresh produce was the perfect industry for her to thrive in. Although each of her past experiences and jobs added tinder to the blaze, the occasion that provided her with the a-ha moment of realization was where she would also solidify her friendship with her mentor Teri Miller, Senior Category Manager of Produce for The Fresh Market and Founder of Southern Roots. Becoming friends before Sabrina joined fresh produce, together they navigated the waters of a new industry by leaning on each other.

“The instant in which I knew fresh produce was where I belonged was at my first Southeast Produce Council (SEPC) event in 2008,” she enlightens me. “I was inspired by the comradery, companionship, and true care that all of the members had for one another, and the common and enduring purpose everyone seemed to share was amazing!”

“My role at Highline Mushrooms provides me with the opportunity to collaborate, innovate, and work directly with retail and foodservice partners—a blend of all the things I love,”

- Sabrina Pokomandy, Account Manager, Highline Mushrooms

Not only did her time with SEPC solidify her admiration for the industry, but it would also lead her to become a Director on the Council’s Board and a part of the Founding Committee of its Southern Roots leadership program alongside Teri.

Designed to create meaningful connections between women in the produce industry, the program uses events, education, and mentoring to help improve leadership skills, making Sabrina a mentor in her own right.

And speaking of making connections, throughout Sabrina’s journey, one of the things that has remained dear to her has been the bonds she has come to form, like the one she has with her other mentor, ​​Stephanie Hilton, Marketing and Business Development at Tom Lange Company, who she has grown a close friendship with through their shared time together.

All of this leads Sabrina to her final piece of advice for anyone in the industry, or outside of it, looking to find new inspirations.

“Everyone we meet is better than us at something,” Sabrina says. “With each new acquaintance comes an opportunity to learn, grow, share, and teach. So, get out there, meet your peers, and embrace new relationships!”

In true mentor fashion, this very piece of wisdom could be the spark to set another produce hopeful’s passion ablaze.The Snack Endstop


The Mentors

Here is what they have to say about Sabrina...


Teri Miller, Senior Category Manager of Produce, The Fresh Market and Founder of Southeast Produce Council’s Southern Roots

"I am honored that Sabrina considers me as a mentor. Are you sure she didn’t say she was MY mentor? I met her before she was in the produce industry and, quickly, we became close friends. Once she joined fresh produce, we worked together often. Since neither of us grew up in this industry, there was much for both of us to learn, and we became sounding boards for one another.

She is also a key part of the founding group of Southern Roots. Sabrina’s unique perspective and style, as well as her drive for continuous improvement of people, processes, and products make her an essential part of this organization. She is my dear friend who has perspectives that allow her to maintain an opinion that is free from groupthink, which can be hard to avoid. The produce industry is blessed to have her leadership, and I’m blessed to call her my friend."

Stephanie Hilton, Marketing and Business Development, Tom Lange Company

"I met Sabrina when we were both asked to serve as founding members of the Southeast Produce Council’s Southern Roots. What I noticed about her right away were her drive and dedication. Immediately, she was committed to not only the success of the Southern Roots mission but also to each of us who served on the committee. In a short time, it seemed as if I had known her forever. What also struck me about Sabrina was her love for this industry. When you meet someone new, you never know whether they are going to be as passionate as you are about produce, but in a very short time, Sabrina demonstrated that she most definitely was. And, even though we don’t see each other frequently, and even less so lately, we always love to catch up with one another at conferences and conventions. Sometimes it is a quick hug on the show floor, and others we find time to sit down and talk about our work, families, and pets. However, over the last year, we have incorporated the occasional Zoom happy hour, which has made being separated much easier to handle.

In my time knowing her, what has made me most proud of Sabrina is how she followed me as Chair of Southern Roots and onto the Board of the SEPC, and I am positive her contributions will be exceptional, just like her."