Editor ’s note: This is the first in a regular series that will feature members of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association’s Emerging Leader Development Program. Citrus + Vegetable asked participants to share an item they gleaned from the program and how they’re using it in their business.
Throughout the yearlong leadership program, April Roe Porter says she noticed one thing time and again when participants met with representatives from both Florida and California agriculture.
“The ag industry, and especially produce, doesn’t have a lot of young people coming into it when jobs are well-suited to their talents and exuberance,” she says.
Younger employees not only bring different ideas and perspectives to the table, but they also provide for a smooth transition within a company as older workers retire.
Porter, who previously worked as an investment banker in New York as well as a financial officer for a large porporation, says she was fortunate to be able to return to the family produce business.
She is among the fourth generation involved in W.G. Roe & Sons Inc., a fresh-market citrus grower-packer founded in 1926. The Winter Haven-based company added blueberry packing about seven years ago.
But most young professionals don’t have that close tie with agricultural businesses. Porter cites the Produce Marketing Association Foundation’s Career Pathways as one industry program that encourages students who haven’t grown up in agriculture to consider
it as a career. As a graduate of FFVA’s first leadership class, Porter was able to participate in the Career Pathways program in a different role when PMA conducted a pilot program in conjunction with FFVA’s annual meeting last September.
A group of University of Florida students shadowed members of the first and second leadership classes throughout the meeting.
The ELDP participants acted as career ambassadors, says Alicia Calhoun, program director for the PMA’s Foundation for Industry Talent in Newark, Del.
The students and their advisers participated in career panel discussions, tours, educational workshops and social events, all designed to give them insight into the Florida produce industry
and the potential careers it may hold. Last year’s pilot program with FFVA has been formalized and will be held again this year during FFVA’s annual meeting in September.
In addition to participants from the University of Florida, it will include students from another university, Calhoun says.
“To me, it’s really neat to see there’s so much energy going into recruiting new graduates to come into produce companies or agricultural companies and serve in a more professional role—and not just on the farming side,” Porter says. “Those long-standing ag companies really need that fresh perspective and outside knowledge to move into the next decades.”
Porter says she continues to encourage young people—whether they’re in their 20s, 30s or even 40s—to consider the produce or agricultural industry as a career And anyone within agriculture can plant that seed in a young person’s mind, she says.
“Whether it’s your nephew or your niece, your next door neighbor, the babysitter who takes care of your son and daughter or whomever, they may say, 'I’m getting a marketing degree. What sort of jobs should I apply for?’ Ask them, ‘Have you looked at the local produce company?’”