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Good Company: Serendipity

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Purveyors of produce are dedicated and passionate, but few set their sights on a career in fruit and vegetables from a young age.

Many find themselves in related industries, segueing into the perishables world. That’s as true for women as it is for men.

Cathy Burns, CEO of the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), BB #:153708 was a trailblazing leader in grocery retail before arriving as PMA president in 2013. Three years later, she was named CEO. “Having the opportunity to influence an industry on a topic is noble,” she says. “It’s inspiring and worth fighting for—every day.”

Julie Lucido, president of Marketing Plus, is both the exception and the rule—her family was in produce, but she was determined not to be.

“I come from a family in the business from the very first grapes imported from Chile by my great uncle, to running around the Long Beach docks with my father, to my mother and stepfather running Marketing Plus.

“If you had asked me when I was 12 if I’d be in the produce industry, my answer would have been no way—I had early aspirations of being an actress, an anchor on CNN, and ultimately becoming the first female President of the United States.”

She did achieve her goals—in a roundabout way. “I still perform in local community theater to scratch my acting bug; I may not be an anchor on primetime, but my skills have translated into helping clients with media, public relations, and trade shows; and I honestly thought there would be a female president by the time I was 40—but now I’m the president of my company and work with presidents of client companies.”

Lisa Strube grew up in Wisconsin and earned an undergraduate degree in biology. She married into the produce industry through Rob Strube III and “slowly started working with the family business [Strube Celery & Vegetable Company, Chicago, BB #:102030 where she is treasurer]. Over the years, my role changed, and even though my husband and I divorced, I stayed with the company. Rob and I get along very well to this day and work together.”

Rosie Cornelius, in sales at MAS Melons & Grapes, LLC in in Nogales, AZ BB #:158291, has been in the industry for more than five decades and received the Pillar of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas Award in 2018. She got her start as an office clerk at Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (more commonly known as A&P) and worked summers in the grocer’s Fresno buying office. When A&P closed its Nogales office, Rosie worked for G.A.C. Produce Company, Inc. for 21 years, at Bay Area Produce for 23 years, and one other company before landing at MAS Melons & Grapes.

Keyes Packaging Group, Inc.’s BB #:339773 vice president of sales and marketing, Suzanne Wolter, has worked on both coasts and in between. Her first high school job was at a fruit stand in Westford, MA where she packed and sold apples. “Long before I knew an ag business degree was in my future, I wonder what decisions I’d have made differently, knowing I’d end up in the Washington apple industry.”

For Miriam Wolk, vice president of member services for United Fresh Produce Association, BB #:145458 there was a little bit of luck involved. “I came to produce via the association management world and happened across United Fresh as I was looking for a new challenge in my career.”

She also had a few tenuous links to the industry, hidden in her family tree: her maternal grandfather, and his dad and uncles, ran a business in South Philadelphia, not far from the original Dock Street terminal market, while her New Jersey PTA president mom pushed schools to provide access to healthy food for children. Even her marriage has a connection—she met her husband on a community service project sorting fresh produce donations.

This is a multi-part series adapted from a profile in the March/April 2020 issue of Produce Blueprints. 


Taryn Pfalzgraf is Senior Editorial Manager for Produce Blueprints