Take a broader perspective of involvement

05/10/2013 09:39:00 AM
Tom Stenzel

Tom Stenzel, United Fresh Produce AssociationTom Stenzel, United Fresh Produce AssociationAs many readers know, the last time I was in San Diego I fell out of an airplane (or maybe I might have been pushed a little).

In any case, that skydive brought two radically different experiences together in the blink of an eye — first the rush of adrenaline during free fall, which then transformed into an unbelievable perspective floating on air overlooking the landscape from Tijuana to Oceanside.

As our industry gathers in San Diego this week for the United Fresh 2013 convention, I’m drawn to recall both feelings — the rush of all the issues and activities and people to see at the convention, but also the more thoughtful long view of where we are as an industry in May 2013.

In the coming days, The Packer will report on the hustle and bustle of the convention — the business conducted by buyers and sellers of every type, the speakers who inspire and educate us, the social events that bring us together on the USS Midway to the closing produce celebration, and the awards and recognition for so many of our industry’s stars.

This marks my 20th anniversary at United, back in the same city as my first convention, and the adrenaline is pumping faster than ever.

But I also have a broader perspective today than ever before about our industry’s future. We are on the cusp of something truly great.

In San Diego, we’ll be celebrating the donation of more than 350 salad bars to California schools. One of our campaign co-chairmen, Dick Spezzano, called this program a game changer, and he was right.

We are finally beginning to change the way kids in America eat, not by telling them what to do, but by giving them a choice of high-quality, great-tasting fresh fruits and vegetables.

More than 35 school district foodservice directors will be at the show to celebrate with us how they are changing the lives of these kids.

It gives me chills to think about coming back again in 20 years to see the difference in those kids as young adults, versus 30-somethings today.

While the industry convenes in San Diego, we’re also convening in Washington, D.C., where Congress is taking up one of the most important issues that will help secure our industry’s growth in the future.

The Senate is now debating a comprehensive immigration reform bill that contains an agricultural framework for business success.

That deal was forged by Republican and Democratic senators, and both agricultural employers and farmworkers.

But salad bar celebrations in San Diego and immigration battles in Washington, D.C., are not disparate issues addressed separately on the East and West coasts.

Just like my view from that parachute, I can imagine looking down to see the curvature of the earth with thousands of attendees in California linked across 3,000 miles to help win the day on immigration reform in Washington, D.C.

Attendees will find a new exhibit this year — our Immigration Reform Call Center — providing a quick and easy means for visitors to call their senators and urge support for this immigration bill.

They can just pick up the phone, punch in their ZIP code, and be connected directly to their individual congressional offices.

We’re on the precipice of a breakthrough that can grow produce consumption beyond anything we’ve ever seen.

But we have to be able to harvest and pack our products.

Those goals are part of the same mission we have at United. They have to go together.

And that’s the value of a broader perspective.

Tom Stenzel is president and chief executive officer of the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.

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