I had the chance on Aug. 12 to chat with Maureen Torrey Marshall, vice president of Torrey Farms Inc., Elba, N.Y.
2:00 p.m. Tom Karst: Hi Maureen
12:02 p.m. Maureen Torrey Marshall: Hi Tom
12:03 p.m. Tom: Thanks for taking time for a Fresh Talk chat today. What do you find yourself working on this week?
12:07 p.m. Maureen: Our growing season is in full swing so we are busy harvesting, packing and shipping for many of our crops that we only have a 10 week window. That’s besides trying to get H-2A visas, meeting, and looking at new regulations down the pike for both farming and trucking. On the family side, my oldest leaves for college. She is a veteran of many produce conventions and I wonder how fast the time has gone.
12:10 p.m. Tom: I just helped my youngest daughter move back to K-State, so I can relate! Time does go by. I am wondering what you consider your most rewarding leadership experience in the realm of agriculture/and or fresh produce?
12:20 p.m. Maureen: My time spent on the United Fresh board of directors and as chairwoman was a great, rewarding experience, working with outstanding, dedicated volunteers and staff working together on the issues that face the produce industry everyday and in the future. It was especially rewarding to see the WIC fruit and vegetable voucher and the school snack program enacted. Also, how the industry together worked on laying the foundation for food safety.
12:21 p.m. Tom: I know you worked hard at United - and previously - on the issue of ag labor. As an 11th generation grower (I think I'm right) how challenging is it to keep planning for the future when so much is in doubt when it come to ag labor?
12:48 p.m. Maureen: The issue of ag labor has been so frustrating. I have worked on it almost 14 years and instead of getting better it is getting worse. It is challenging to plan for the future. Do you move your farming operation to another country? Do you stop growing labor intensive fruits and vegetables? Do you liquidate your assets and encourage the next generation to do something different? I have on my office wall a quote from former vice president Al Gore that he made in the fall of 1999. He was presenting an award to a Colorado FFA member and upon hearing that the FFA member wanted to continue on in production agriculture, Gore reportedly replied that the young person should develop other plans because “production agriculture is being shifted out of the U.S. to the third world.” Should I keep encouraging the next generation toward U.S. production agriculture? Every day I advise them to get as many skills aside from farming as they can. Unless there is a change in the out of control agenda facing production agriculture, it will be no more as my generation knew it.
12:52 p.m. Tom: Maureen, great insights from a farm manager's perspective. I know you are passionate about that issue and others. Changing gears a little, I see you are on a panel about the promotion board concept at PMA. From your perspective, how would a generic promotion board line up with the industry's interests? I'll make this the last question because I know I have kept you a while...
1:21 p.m. Maureen: I strongly feel that a generic promotion board could greatly help grow the produce category in general. Right now we only have a few shippers large enough to promote to the consumer the benefits of their fruits and vegetables. How much better could it be if all growers - no matter what their size and whatever they are a U.S. grower, a CSA farmer, farm market or import into the U.S. – support it together financially a generic promotion board. I still feel there is a place and need for the individual commodity boards to promote their specific commodity in addition to the generic (promotions). Fifteen years ago when we acquired a dairy and had to support the dairy promotion and the beef check off. I wasn’t happy about it, but I see what it has done for the dairy industry. It has been a great investment.
1:22 p.m. Tom: I know you are busy -- thanks again!