By Mary Allen
Senior, Agricultural Communication major
The Center for Growing Talent by the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) applications arrived to agricultural science and agricultural communication major students in spring quarter 2016. Each year, the program sends four individuals to Fresh Summit PMA from 13 universities from around the world including students from Chile, Australia, and South Africa. Participants are not supposed to have any experience in the produce industry but have a willingness to learn about career options within produce. Cal Poly participated in this particular PMA program for the past six years but numerous students participated through the Agribusiness Department over the past couple decades.
It was an honor to be selected along with Caitlin Paulus, Emily Dale, and Lauren Tomasello to represent Cal Poly with our Advisor Dr. De Lay from the Department of Agriculture Education and Communion. We traveled to Orlando, Florida for the largest gathering of produce companies in the world. A pre-orientation webinar before our trip gave us an overview of the program’s history, the four-day conference, and how to prepare.
There were more than 1,000 exhibitors and over 21,000 in attendance total. Companies of varying sizes had booths representing all parts of the supply chain including The Wonderful Company, Taylor Farms, and Braga Family Farms along with many other family owned operations. Many companies negotiated new business partnerships or promoted new products and technologies during PMA’s Fresh Summit.
“PMA was an incredible experience,” reflects my good friend, Caitlin Paulus. “I not only learned about opportunities within the produce industry that I wasn’t even aware existed, but I also learned about myself and gained confidence in my professional skills,” she adds. “The conference provided an inspirational and comfortable environment to talk with managers, founders and CEO’s of the country’s top produce companies as well as young professionals new to the industry. It was truly unforgettable!”
The Center for Growing Talent by PMA had a strict schedule of events, seminars, and workshops to educate our student group about the produce industry.
Additionally, each student had a “career ambassador”—an industry professional to shadow throughout the seminar to help get an inside perspective and build connections. My career ambassador was Taryn Pfalzgraf with Blue Book Services, a company who provides a credit rating service for produce companies. As senior editor of Blueprints, she understood my interest for publications and writing. We walked the floor on several occasions which helped me interact with companies and get more exposure as she introduced me to her network.
During the conference, I received valuable advice which I took to heart. Some words of wisdom included to mastering the Spanish language, traveling while I am young, and to be open to the future. I also learned how the produce industry is a hardworking, fast paced, and a fulfilling place to be employed. The ultimate goal is to feed the world.
Several alumni attended the Cal Poly Alumni and Friends reception on Saturday night. I met many great rolemodels and passionate leaders who truly are “Poly Proud.” The Dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Science welcomed us and affirmed the opportunity to come to PMA. It was inspiring to see all the Cal Poly Alumni happy working in the produce industry. They encouraged us to get involved in produce and keep them in mind around graduation.
Over the course of four days, each of us experienced the event slightly differently. At the end we all agreed the conference was very inspiring and working in the produce industry
could be a possibility in the future. The Center for Growing Talent invests in the next generation to keep the industry filled with fresh ideas and innovation. Mr. Jay Pack, pictured left, started this program which hundreds of students have now benefitted from. About 65 percent of the program’s participants take their first internship or job in the produce and floral industry.
From the moment I stepped on the plane to Florida until the moment I got home, I was networking, building relationships, and absorbing information about the produce industry. Many business cards were exchanged and there were many promising job leads if I choose to pursue a career in the produce industry. It’s a great feeling and option to have as a graduating senior.
I am so thankful for the PMA Fresh Summit experience. It opened my eyes to the numerous career options available and it would be a privilege to be part of the world’s most important industry.