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PMA Education Foundation
Serious About Growing The Industry

Our piece, Pundit’s Mailbag — Protocol Lesson For PMA Education Foundation Students, brought a number of responses, including this fiery one from one of the most important women in the produce industry, Lorri Koster of Mann Packing, who, among other things was the first woman to ever chair a national produce trade association when she headed up the International Fresh-Cut Produce Association:

The PMA Educational Foundation has several programs and the Pack Family/PMA Career pathways Fund Scholarships is just one. I also met many of the students and while I didn’t receive a lot of follow-up, at least two sent me a thank you via email (not entirely appropriate, but also not unusual these days).

The PMA Educational Foundation also sponsors the Nucci Scholarship for Culinary Innovation in honor of my late brother, Joe. I’ve had the pleasure for two years now meeting these culinary students, hosting field tours, and not all of them, but several, have kept in touch. It’s important to remember these programs are in their infancy and PMA and its leadership will continue to improve upon them.

I don’t appreciate the comment about those of us having “hundreds of thousands of dollars available” donating to this Foundation because it makes us “feel good.” Has this person seen our financials? I don’t think so. Our company doesn’t throw money around. The Foundation has a strong business plan. We thought about this very carefully and we feel it is important to reinvest in the industry.

And we want to honor my brother, Joe. So, yeah, I guess it makes us feel good, but at the end of the day these unique programs aren’t about making donors feel good. They are about growing our industry.

GOOD for PMA, the donors, volunteer leadership and mentors for stepping up to the plate.

I also don’t think it’s in the best interest of The Pundit’s readers to post diatribes like this without attaching a name to it. This person is passing some pretty serious judgment on some of the most well-respected organizations and leaders in this industry.

Each student is aware of the hardships of writing a thesis statement

Lorri A. Koster
Co-Chairman, Board of Directors
Vice President, Marketing
Mann Packing Co., Inc.
Salinas, California

The Pundit probably deserves a good slap with a wet noodle for letting the piece run as it did. Written communication, without the benefit of intonation or facial expression, can be confusing, and the author of that letter never intended to speak negatively of those who have made a commitment to the PMA Education Foundation and, thus, a commitment to the industry.

The author of that letter was actually speaking to the growing trend in philanthropy to Donor Involvement. At one point in time, companies and affluent individuals donated money and that was it. Now the trend is toward donors staying actively involved as they make sure their money is well spent.

Our correspondent was trying to urge those who donate money to be actively involved so that the money can be spent as effectively as possible.

In fact, the PMA Education Foundation and, specifically, The Pack Family/PMA Career Pathways Fund program are perfect examples of Donor Involvement. Although the Pack family didn’t want to run the program day to day, they also didn’t just send a check and never check in.

Jay was constantly involved and made sure people who would protect his intent were involved from the first day of the Steering Committee to today, where he serves on the Board of Directors of the Foundation.

As we discussed in our piece, PMA Education Foundation Looks To Attract And Retain New Industry Talent, the Foundation has been running an initial fund-raising campaign, and Mann Packing generously donated a six-figure sum, contributing at the Diamond Level to the new campaign.

And, as Lorri attests in her letter, Mann Packing and Joe’s family have certainly been involved in helping to make the Nucci Scholarship for Culinary Innovation the important program it has become:

The Nucci Scholarship for Culinary Innovation posthumously honors industry leader Joe Nucci and his significant contributions to the produce and foodservice industries. The scholarship program that bears his name connects produce and foodservice professionals to future culinary innovators. Through this all-expense-paid program, selected culinary students and faculty attend PMA’s Foodservice Conference & Expo in Monterey, California.

This past July, the PMA Education Foundation worked with the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and Johnson & Wales University and provided event scholarships to seven students and two faculty members from each school. While PMA worked with the CIA in the past, this was the first year working with Johnson & Wales University.

As part of this year’s program, students and faculty toured produce fields and facilities, attended conference workshops, networked with industry professionals, walked the exposition floor, and worked alongside celebrity chefs Walter Scheib and Anthony Bourdain. Six students, selected by their faculty, also acted as sous chefs during a live chef demonstration.

Joe Nucci
Joe Nucci, who passed away in July 2005 at the age of 40, believed deeply in our industry and its future. Born into a family of produce innovators, Joe was President of Mann Packing Company, Inc., and was scheduled to become PMA’s Chairman of the Board in October 2006. Joe’s life was defined by his innovative character and capability to inspire the next generation of leaders. Through this scholarship program, his legacy lives on.

This Pundit is proud to be part of the effort to honor Joe’s memory. Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, has sponsored the luncheon at the Golf Tournament used to raise money for the program since its inception, and the Pundit himself provided PMA’s Fresh Produce Manuals to all the students. We’ve also been effective in soliciting attendees to the event.

Here at the Pundit, we are fortunate to have many letter-writers in a position to sign their name. However, many important industry figures, especially some of the most important retailers, are not able by company policy or by situation to sign their name publicly. Of course, we can’t have crazy people making accusations, so the compromise we make is that we will protect people’s identity if requested — but the Pundit has to know exactly who wrote the letter.

Every single day we receive anonymous letters that we read and file away because we don’t print anonymous things, but we know who wrote that letter and the letter-writer is a reputable person who has had many important board positions with many important industry associations.

Even though it can be upsetting, we believe the industry gains more by hearing the honest thoughts of people through the Pundit than it would if their thoughts went unknown. Remember that the people would still have the thoughts; we just wouldn’t have any opportunity to consider their opinions in program development.

And to the substance of our contributor’s suggestion that the students get some training on how to best take advantage of an opportunity such as PMA — that seems like a pretty reasonable idea.

Obviously one company and its report is anecdotal, but we received enough feedback after that piece to say this: It appears that the mentors mostly report excellent follow-up from the students; many mention follow-up thank you cards and long term relationships.

The exhibitors, though, do seem to report a different and lower level of follow-up than do the exhibitors at the PMA Foodservice Conference, where the Nucci Scholars are brought.

This might be an interesting thing for the Foundation to research, but we would suspect the following:

Culinary School is a kind of trade school, so, almost by definition, a student at culinary school has a more defined career path in mind. If Pundit sister publication PRODUCE BUSINESS offers a free newsletter for chefs on how to use fresh produce in innovative ways, we will probably get a high degree of the Nucci Scholars to sign up for it.

The Pack students aren’t as certain they will have a need for anything related to produce. In fact, the trend around the country has been that the old departments of Agricultural Economics are renaming themselves with names such as the Department of Applied Economics. Even the American Agricultural Economists Association is intending to change its name.

As a practical matter, another name for “applied economics” is business. This means that, increasingly, the Pack program is drawing from what are really business schools. So these kids have real options. They don’t have to work in produce. They can work for P&G or Goldman Sachs.

Our correspondent the other day saw the non-responsiveness as something that requires training to correct. We agree, since even if you are actually going to go to law school or to work in subprime mortgages, the smart path is to make friends everywhere, keep up all contacts, etc.

But when we heard the story of non-responsiveness, we thought it was one of two things:

One possibility is it is just a cultural issue. The Pundit recently went to a big party for a teenager and received back a pre-printed thank you card. The Pundit’s Mom never would have allowed such a thing.

Another possibility is that the produce industry has to work harder, and the lack of follow-up was a sign of indifference. Maybe the students took a look at the produce industry or at least this company and were not yet sold.

Over time we hope the Foundation will start to collect good statistics on how many students enter the produce trade, how many stay, etc., with students from around the world in the program those won’t necessarily be easy numbers to collect.

Our gut is that although the produce industry is thrilling for those involved, many outsiders won’t catch the appeal. Especially students who don’t want to live in areas such as Salinas that have large produce representation.

Our best bet is probably for the Foundation to start a world class internship program. Collect resumes from students, formalize a program, perhaps arrange in some areas for summer housing in vacant college dorms.

The visit to PMA is fantastic, but we have to get the students working in the industry.

We thank Lorri for her letter and the opportunity it gives us to clarify what our contributor intended to communicate, highlight the importance of the Nucci Scholarship for Culinary Innovation and reflect upon how the changing role of Ag Economic programs might impact the way future Pack students view the industry.

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