Why I love the produce industry… and a big THANKS!

Two weeks ago growers, manufacturers, buyers, sellers, marketers and associations converged on the Anaheim, California convention center to talk—and taste—produce. The new format of the PMA Fresh Summit cut the exposition down to two days, and the floor was packed.

That was, until Sunday afternoon. As I wandered around in an effort to match faces to the email addresses that regularly appear in my inbox, it became apparent that many folks from the East coast were nowhere in sight.

Hurricane Sandy was on her way and many airlines had cancelled all Sunday evening flights to the North East forcing those from the area to skip out of the show early. The Hurricane threat was serious and people wanted to be home with their families—fruits and veggies would have to wait.

I, however, chose to stay through to the end of the show. As a result, I experienced Frankenstorm from the West coast via news broadcasts that showed the towns my family and friends live in being flooded, knocked down and washed away. It was hours before I received notice that my family was safe. It was more than a day until I heard from some of my friends. All that time, I sat waiting… and watching… and worrying.

I am happy to report that everyone I know and love is safe. Some only lost power, some are still drying out their belongings, some may have to rebuild, but they are all well enough to recount the devastation first-hand. It breaks my heart that others were not so lucky.

After three flight cancellations, I gave up trying to get home ASAP. Those I loved were ok, even if they were in the dark, and it was unknown if I could get to work or not, so I spent the week tied to my laptop trying to get ahead.

It was not long before I realized that while I was focused on rounding-up two days of produce schmoozing, the produce people were focused on digging the North East out of the trenches.

Emails were flooding in, subjects reading:

“Donations to Hurricane Relief Effort”

“Collecting Donations for Sandy Victims”

“Relief Fund Established”

I even got word from a friend that someone from his Midwest organization was driving to Staten Island with a food truck to bring warm food to those living outside and cleaning up.

I swelled with pride. This nightmare was happening in the Tri-State area, but people from all over the country were jumping up to help.

The images of foundations where houses once stood were heart wrenching, but none of that compared to the shock and despair plastered on people’s faces as they began to comprehend all that they had lost. It was not just a lifetime of material items, but their sense of security, community ties and even the lives of people they loved.

And here, these small family-run farms from across the United States that have spent long hours and years building their brands and feeding their communities were pausing to give back to the city that couldn’t sleep.

They saw people in need. It is as simple as that.

Whether it is product, time, supplies or just encouragement to get others on board; if they had something to give, they did.

Do not misinterpret the title of this post. The produce industry is not the only category that is waist deep in the relief efforts. But to me they stand out.

Sure their product is on the shelves of grocery stores nationwide, but they provide much more than food to their local regions. For two days at PMA, I heard story after story about how they give back to their communities both financially but also with their time and concern and smiles. They have been doing this for generations, passing down knowledge and experience, and also compassion. They keep their businesses in the family because they know the value of family.

And for me, there is no one I would want by my side during a catastrophe more than my family—and I’m guessing I am not the only one.

Thank you to EVERYONE who has made a donation of some kind to the Hurricane Sandy relief effort.

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