If there is one thing we can learn from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that one never knows where the next big problem is going to come from. Today we have a letter from a key player in transportation who argues that the industry is not doing all it can to make sure that transportation doesn’t detract from the quality and safety of our products. We see all the time how desperate many shippers are to find a truck so they can fulfill an order. Many have no procedures or mechanism to inspect these trucks, much less a willingness to send one away because it is substandard.
Many receivers also have no procedure to make sure what is received has traveled in a truck that meets proper sanitary standards. Our letter-writer is in transportation, but comes from a robust produce industry heritage. We should pay attention:
After nearly three years of preaching “clean the trailer” to people in both the transportation and fresh produce industries, I’m finding that rather than running out of energy to stay on mission, I’m actually feeling greater resolve to keep pushing this education effort ‘uphill.’
I decided to send you a note to let you know that I see and admire your willingness to lead the charge over issues that would probably get ignored because there is either lack of consensus or strong opinions among influential industry leaders.
You really are not afraid to say what needs to be said, to whomever needs to hear it. As my kids say, ‘You’re straight up!’ I find that inspirational!
First, in his recent one about a Time for Unified Action, he offers a rather direct call for members of the fresh produce industry: Provide a unified front to the customer. This caught my attention because of the differing perspectives I hear from industry members about the government’s mandate to use clean trailers. Consumers are scared, concerned and willing to pay for safe food. A COVID response from the fresh produce industry that says, ‘Farm to Fork means exactly that! Your food is safe, even in transit.’ Of course, then they would have to back that claim up with action.
And if a few executives from retail would take Don’s advice — Step Out of the Office and Take a Field Trip and get out into the field (or shipping facilities), they would not only be surprised at the condition of many of these trailers that are transporting the product on its way to be delivered at their stores, but also, they would perhaps feel sick thinking about the trailers that brought their own food to their fork.
Jim, I really don’t know you. My father, of course, thinks much of you, which says a lot. But I do know that I appreciate your unwillingness to settle and accept status quo when things need to change, improve or are just plain wrong.
Keep up the great work… may your voice continue loud and clear!
We’re honored to receive such a thoughtful note from Pam. She has attended The New York Produce Show and Conference, the Foundational Excellence Program we do jointly with Cornell University, and we have always been impressed that someone in trucking would take the time to really understand the industry and the product.
Of course, she is Produce Industry Royalty. Her father, Jim Lugg, was called by Berkeley the “Founder of the Modern Salad”:
In 1963, when Lugg, an agriculture scientist, was hired as director of research by Bruce Church Incorporated—one of the largest U.S. lettuce producers at the time—the company hoped that he could help solve its soil and water problems. But Lugg soon discovered that the company’s difficulties weren’t as much about soil and water as they were about post-harvest issues.
Looking for ways to better preserve crops’ freshness during shipment, Lugg turned to Whirlpool Corporation, which had come up with a new system for storing apples and pears. “It was just about managing carbon dioxide and oxygen,” he explains. “I thought, ‘They do it in warehouses—if we could do it in transportation, it would be a home run.’”
Out of a partnership between Bruce Church and Whirlpool, a corporation named TransFresh was born in 1966, and Lugg became its president. “The mission was to use these different gas mixtures of oxygen and CO2 in transportation vehicles,” Lugg says. Extensive research and experimentation led to modified atmospheres in refrigerated shipping containers and railcars that greatly extended the shelf life of whatever perishables were inside.
“Our refrigerated-shipping business grew into a very large operation, because people wanted a lot of California fruits and vegetables,” Lugg says. Business expanded to Florida, Chile, New Zealand, and Europe, and the company’s atmospheric pallets for fresh produce maintained a grip on the market until competitors appeared around 2000.
But after interviewing retailers’ customers about their experiences with the company’s produce, Lugg discovered that a lot of the lettuce that was being purchased and not used right away was being thrown out. That led to another big idea.
The birth of salad kits
The company decided to cut and wash the lettuce, then package it with the same oxygen-and-CO2 mixture as in the shipping containers. “We were trying to make the bag’s film differentially permeable to oxygen and carbon dioxide so that we’d let enough oxygen in to keep the lettuce alive and let enough CO2 out so that we didn’t spoil the lettuce with an off flavor,” Lugg says.
By the 1980s, Lugg and his team—made up of microbiologists, post-harvest physiologists, nutritionists, and others—had succeeded. In 1989, they introduced the Fresh Express Family Classic garden salad blend, the first retail packaged salad sold nationwide.
Of course, Pam is a pretty powerful person all in her own right. The Californian told her story:
Often the direction one selects when he or she starts a journey has little to do with the final destination. That is the case with Pam Lugg Young, owner of Pam Young & Co., who took a rather circuitous route to her present position.
With an academic background that includes a B.A. in arts and history, a teaching credential and law degree, the casual observer would never have predicted that Young would today be the owner of a logistics company that specializes in refrigerated transportation services.
The daughter of Jim Lugg, a man who has been involved in the Salinas Valley produce business in several capacities, Young was interested in perhaps getting a law degree when she graduated from Salinas High School.
Although she was familiar with the ag industry because of her father’s involvement and many of her friends were also from ag families, Young elected to pursue a liberal arts education. She also decided to get a teaching credential.
While teaching school in Salinas, Young also decided to enroll in the Monterey College of Law to get her law degree as well. It was after passing the bar exam that Young’s career took an unexpected change in direction.
Jack Pardue, a family friend, was a local truck broker who had been in business for a couple of decades. Young had worked briefly for Pardue when she lived in Washington for a short time after college and was familiar with the business.
When Young’s father heard that Pardue was going to close his business, Lugg asked his daughter if she might be interested in stepping in to manage it.
Laughing, Young said, “I am glad I didn’t know all that was ahead of me because I may have decided not to own this company and I would have therefore missed an amazing career choice.”
Now Pam challenges the industry. It is one thing to act because a law requires it, but how about because it is the right thing to do? How about because we, in the industry, can see things that our consumers never will.
What is right isn’t in doubt. It is our will to act that is in question.
Many thanks to Pam Young for her generous and thoughtful letter.