( Photo courtesy Shuman Farms; graphic by Amelia Freidline )

In 2013, when Trish James started working at Produce for Kids, her children were young. Raising them brought up a lot of questions and need for support.

The rest of her team at the cause-marketing arm of Shuman Farms, Reidsville, Ga., are women too, juggling work and parenting responsibilities.

“As they grow, we say, ‘Hey, I’m struggling with this, so there’s gotta be other people struggling with it too.’ We find that’s where we get the best content, the most engaging content,” James said. 

“Not everything is roses and laughter every day. So we can be a little real and bring some utility to our content, the most useful content for our consumers.”

This keeping-it-real attitude is key to how James leads her teams as vice president of Produce for Kids and chief marketing officer for Shuman Farms and contributes to the fresh produce industry as a whole. 

Helping parents, especially the moms who are most likely to do the household grocery shopping, with their struggles builds trust and, ultimately, product awareness, she said.

“She has encouraged our team to think outside of the box and to not be afraid of trying new ways of doing things,” said Amanda Keefer, managing director of Produce for Kids and host of the Healthy Family Podcast. “(She) is a champion for women in our industry and women in business.”

James’ introduction to the industry began when she moved from the marketing department to produce and seafood merchandising at Acme Markets, which has 164 locations in the Northeast.

James found a mentor in Acme produce director Jay Schneider.

“I really wanted to learn as much as I could, because selling produce is not like selling a can of soup. I had to study,” she said.

James brought home price books and trade articles that ended up on people’s desks and pored through them to learn as much as she could. And she fell in love with produce.

Innovation, trend-setting and anticipating customers’ and consumers’ needs before they realize they have them are her goals.

Since James started at Produce for Kids, the organization has expanded from doing only in-store promotions to add many digital programs, including blogs, podcasts and strategic social media. She’s partnered with many more produce companies nationwide, from big to little suppliers. 

Donations have reached $7 million and the organization has given out more than 12 million meals by partnering with Feeding America’s network of food banks. James looks at Produce for Kids as not just a philanthropic organization, but a lifestyle resource for busy families across the U.S.

“We know that eating a healthy diet, a balanced diet with fresh fruits and veggies — that’s important,” James said. “But your mental health and your family’s wellbeing, that’s equally important.”