In an industry where the grapevine is as literal as it is figurative, each tendril you cultivate adds to your story. And no one tells a story quite like Jen Velasquez. The people she has encountered have helped to shape her career, leaving in her wake a reputation that inspired Melinda Goodman, Managing Partner at Full Tilt Marketing, to call her up about an opportunity that eventually named her Director of Marketing.
“I didn’t know Melinda well, but we’d crossed paths in the industry and she was willing to try things out. Now, I really enjoy where I am and can’t wait to see what happens next,” she laughs while looking back at the roller coaster she’s been on.
Jen’s journey began in Dallas, Texas, with a public relations (PR) firm that worked with Central Market. It was here she was first introduced to the world of produce.
“I then worked with a company that promoted Spanish wines, where I found I loved working with growers and the Earth, and I was drawn to the idea of generational growth,” Jen says.
Jen tells me our industry courted her with surprising turns and, before she knew it, she was in love. Serendipity stepped in further when it brought her to a PR agency specifically focused on fresh produce.
“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into!” she says with a smile. “I went to California to work with the Chilean Avocado Importers Association and when I picked up avocados from a distributor they weren’t ripe enough for our event the next day. I remember I was in my hotel room, putting the avocados in brown paper bags with apples and bananas trying to ripen them overnight, thinking, ‘How is this what I’m doing as my job?’ I was problem solving on the fly to create the best experience for my client and it all clicked, this was where I was meant to be—I fell in love with the industry and doing ‘weird’ things that are no longer weird.”
This was also when Jen met one of the first voices in her head, Maggie Bezart (Hall), now Director of Strategic Sales and Marketing for La Bonanza Avocados.
“Maggie was amazing—I could immediately tell that she knew so much and I admired her very quickly. I’ve really looked up to her throughout my career,” Jen reflects. “She is one of the first faces at a trade show that became familiar and somebody I have really come to love.”
"I was problem solving on the fly to create the best experience for my client and it all clicked, this was where I was meant to be—I fell in love with the industry and doing ‘weird’ things that are no longer weird."
-Jen Velasquez, Director of Marketing, Full Tilt Marketing
Trade shows—remember those?—are where I first began to get to know the bright light that is Jen. Quickly, she became one of the beacons I found as I learned my own way around the industry, and it was a thrill to discover who held that space for her.
“One of the reasons I like the produce industry so much is that when you go to a trade show, it’s like seeing your friends and family again. Someone I always look for who has had an impact on me is Ashley Rawl, Vice President of Sales, Marketing, and Product Development at WP Rawl and Sons,” Jen shares.
Ashley, Jen tells me, is not only the reason kale is now a staple in her fridge, but also one of the first people she saw helping to bring a love for fresh produce to the next generation.
“Our industry has always highlighted the importance of giving back, and with Ashley, I witnessed it firsthand. Ashley was very invested in helping Katie Stagliano grow Katie’s Krops, which empowered kids to grow vegetables and donate the harvest. Giving back to the community is something that was very important to him and to the family—to the whole company. How could I be a part of that and not see Ashley as a mentor?” Jen says. “I just loved the way that I always have seen him treat people. The way he speaks and the way he carries himself makes him someone I aspire to be like.”
Jen worked with Ashley and the WP Rawl team while she was at Golden Sun Marketing (GSM), an opportunity she says opened doors to several mentors—too many to name.
“Another former client-turned-friend and mentor is Lori Anne Carr, Vice President of Titan Farms,” Jen points out.
Lori Anne and her husband Chalmers have grown Titan Farms into the respected company it is today through passion and attention to detail, Jen shares, recalling what it was like to work with them in all aspects of marketing and branding.
“One of the reasons I like the produce industry so much is that when you go to a trade show, it’s like seeing your friends and family again."
“Lori Anne is someone with whom I personally worked really well. Today, I not only consider Lori Anne a mentor but also a friend, and I think that comes from having traveled with her for six summers doing the Lori Anne Peach retail tours. We laughed, we cried, we talked about life and work while we sampled peaches and drove from city to city. She taught me to expect excellence and never settle for less, but something else I really admire about Lori Anne and Chalmers is how they treat the people that work for and with them—they become family. That might sound cliché, but I experienced it firsthand and it’s how I want to lead as well.”
Looking across all the voices that continue to influence her, Jen adds, “I think that you get something different from each person you meet if you are willing to be open and listen. Maybe it’s something that you need at the time, or maybe it’s something you will need later. I love that about our industry and about mentorship.”
And nothing showcases an understanding of what others have taught you like striking out to find your own way, a key step in Jen’s journey from student to burgeoning teacher.
“I learned so much from our team at Golden Sun and from Don Goodwin, the Founder and former Owner, who not only mentored me for over eight years but was so gracious when I felt I needed to explore a new chapter,” Jen says.
That new chapter was no small one and led to more than a year of freelancing on Jen’s part as she followed her heart to Ireland, where Melinda came to find her. If distance makes the heart grow fonder, Jen’s was tinder to the produce flame.
“I just love that I found this industry and how everyone in it welcomed me with open arms,” she shares. “I want to make sure I create the same experience for every new member of our industry that I meet, welcome them, and create an opportunity for them to feel at home the same way I felt. I want them to realize how awesome it is and that this is somewhere they can spend their career and do so happily,” Jen concludes.
So, while some industries might play telephone, ours is one to hear through the grapevine and listen.
Here is what they have to say about Jen...
Maggie Bezart (Hall), Director of Strategic Sales and Marketing, La Bonanza Avocados
"It has been such a pleasure to know Jen the past 12 years. She was just starting out in PR when we met, and her first assignment was to design, set up, and run an interactive booth at a Chivas game in Los Angeles. It was her first trip to California and she was nervous, but she was brilliant. Families flooded her booth. Her language skills were amazing—switching between Spanish and English, entertaining families. Her smile and laugh are unforgettable. She has moved on to much bigger and better roles in her career, each one a stepping stone of marketing and sales. I am proud that she chose me to mentor her all these years. Now, it is time for her to support the next generation. She has a broad knowledge of the produce industry and understands what it takes to go to market. Her fun-loving spirit, ability to think on her feet, and team spirit have been an asset to me. I look forward to seeing her career in the produce industry continue to grow and add value for all of us."
Ashley Rawl, Vice President of Sales, Marketing, and Product Development, WP Rawl and Sons
"I had the pleasure of working with Jen for a little over five years. Whether brainstorming new campaign strategies or coordinating a summer camp for children, she was always full of enthusiasm for anything thrown her way. Everyone always loved when Jen visited our office headquarters. If you know Jen, then you know she never met a stranger and everyone she meets loves her. Many colleagues who worked with Jen have always looked up to her as a leader. Her positivity, desire to learn more, and strong work ethic are just a few of the traits that make her so special. Jen played a very instrumental part in growing our marketing efforts to where they are today. It has been exciting to see the growth in her career over the past few years and I am excited to see where the future takes her."
Lori Anne Carr, Vice President, Titan Farms
"In all the time I have known Jen Velasquez, she has never failed to have a bubbly personality, an ever-present smile, and to meet every situation with determination and a great attitude. Initially, she knew little about peaches other than she enjoyed them. After traveling with me for eight summers promoting Lori Anne Peaches, she now knows as much about them as anyone! Jen was instrumental in building the foundation for what has become our signature brand. She often visited the farm and quickly became a part of our Titan family. Working closely with members of the sales and operations teams, she was thought of as much more than a marketing consultant. When Palmetto Processing Solutions came to life, the fruit processing space was new to us. Jen took the lead and enabled Golden Sun to add even more value to our operation. I have often thanked Don Goodwin for assigning Jen to lead our account. As we traveled countless miles through Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Nebraska, and Virginia, just to name a few, talking to thousands of retail customers while slicing an indeterminable number of Lori Anne Peaches, she was an ambassador for our brand, a diplomat when things weren’t quite right, and she grew to be a treasured member of my team. It is my pleasure to have been a part of encouraging her to follow her heart and her dreams. I cannot wait to see what’s ahead in the next chapter of her life!"