As I explore and meet people at farms, terminal markets and conferences in the Northeast, I’ve noticed something which I suspect is happening nationwide.
Say what you want about millennials, but these produce professionals in their 20s and early 30s are stepping up. That makes me feel a bit relieved and a lot hopeful, especially after reading that the average age of a U.S. farmer is fast approaching 60, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2017 Census of Agriculture, released in April.
Still, shouldering more responsibility as their parents age is one thing. Now, this younger generation is unifying to strengthen its voice.
Take Hunts Point Produce Market in Bronx, New York. It’s the largest wholesale fresh produce market in the U.S., and it runs as a 32-member cooperative with a board of directors, most of whom are older than this demographic.
Yet the fourth and fifth generations of family companies have created an informal NextGen Board, said Gabriela D’Arrigo, 30, vice president of marketing and communications at D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of New York, one of the market’s larger distributors.
They regularly meet up, sometimes for dinner, sometimes drinks. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that they have a chance to discuss what’s happening in their professional lives. Hunts Point is so large, each company can act as an isolated world unto itself. The meetings are a chance to share the challenges they’re having, the trends they see, what solutions have worked and what they’d like to do if given the chance.
Shouldering more responsibility as their parents age is one thing. Now, this younger generation is unifying to strengthen its voice.
For instance, after spending time in the growing fields of California and at the sales and distribution hub in New York, D’Arrigo is expanding her family’s company in areas where she sees growth potential: organics, meal kit delivery and high-end foodservice.
Sasha LoPresti, 32, director of business development and food safety for A.J. Trucco Inc., is also part of the young pack. They want to revamp the image of Hunts Point, modernize it where possible, and make it more relevant to the future of fresh produce.
In Vermont, there’s Lauren Mordasky, 29, owner of Vermont Hydroponic Produce, who participates in the Eastern Produce Council’s leadership program for those with fewer than 10 years’ experience in the industry. Besides all the ideas she has for her business, Mordasky grasps the power of networking in a casual, friendly way. Any old timer will tell you it’s all about face time (and not the digital video kind).
At Wafler Nursery, an apple orchard and nursery in upstate New York, Jake and Kyle Wafler are in their late teens and early 20s. Along with their father, Paul, the brothers are always innovating grower techniques to increase yield, efficiency and lower costs. They have a Snapchat group of young farmers to bring up farming problems, solutions and let’s admit it — just goof around.
Hey, you’re only young once.
Amy Sowder is The Packer’s Northeast editor. E-mail her at [email protected].