By definition, every enterprise has a founder and, typically, the success of a venture reflects back to the founder, just as the founder must bear the consequences of failure. PRODUCE BUSINESS, though, is and always has been different.
Its genesis was in the produce industry portion of what the psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung called “the collective unconscious” – for, PRODUCE BUSINESS rose, not solely from an act of personal will or individual intellect, but it grew out of a deep and abiding connection to an industry and way of life.
I never met my great-grandfather, Jacob, never saw the old Wallabout market in Brooklyn, and yet he and that place are as real to me as my own home. I possess an old gavel, which my grandfather, Harry, used to pound to order the meetings of the United Fruit Buyers for decades. I never sat at those meetings, yet the thud of the gavel resonates as real as any music I have ever heard.
I did go down to the Washington Street Market as a boy, and there, at my father’s knee, I learned of character and of awe from watching him, first there and later on Hunts Point, as he conducted business more competently than a virtuoso conductor.
It was of all this that the dream of PRODUCE BUSINESS was composed, not merely to serve the trade but to elevate it. To create something to help people make better business decisions, yes, but, even more, to create something that would make children prouder of their fathers who toiled in this trade.
To bring the fruit of the earth to the people of the world – what could possibly be more noble and elevating. How very much I wanted the world to know that this industry, in its contemporary sophistication, had transcended the limitations that popular understanding had set upon it. No child need begrudge the fact that his father was not a lawyer or a doctor, but a produce man.
I look back at the early years and I laugh at myself. How little I knew. How many mistakes were made. Yet, I see a lesson. For I see how much a willingness to learn combined with genuine enthusiasm can overcome.
I wonder if my parents always knew that. Or if their priceless support in the early years of this venture was simply a testament to parental faith. My uncles, my brother, my sister, all provided sustenance, both material and moral, at a time when the margin for error was slim indeed.
There are many magazines and many newspapers, and all find their place, or, soon enough, are no more. But this publication was born to its place, on the heartbeat of an industry.
Sometimes people have not agreed with things we’ve written, and sometimes they agree more passionately than is justified. But with my mother’s milk, I took in the produce trade, and no one can say that I have not fought to make this a greater profession.
Perhaps the most miraculous thing is how a dream can bring people into its service. If I have had any talent at all, it has been that I have been able to illuminate a vision so elevating that so many have chosen to affiliate themselves with it. Especially my extraordinary friend, Ken Whitacre, whose boundless efforts, brilliant mind and faithful devotion to a dream have taught me that sustained toil is, indeed, a high form of friendship.
But it is a dream that ennobled the purpose of all those who work building PRODUCE BUSINESS. From Diana Levine, who typeset the first issue with her own fingers and moved halfway down a continent to continue doing the same thing 80 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, to Lee Smith, our newest associate who after years as a consultant, and with A.J. Bayliss in Arizona, Kings in New Jersey and Wawa Food Markets in Pennsylvania, has joined our company on a full-time basis.
Just on staff, so many to thank: Fran Gruskin, my own assistant, whose devotion lets my own mother sleep soundly. Eric Nieman, our associate publisher, who knows service is a calling and Mike Duff, who champions truth. Brent Reuman, Alexandra Salas Rojas, Aline Gharakhanian, Leslie Kennedy, Jim Molzen, Mike Nissley, countless more through the years, characterized, if by anything, by one thing: An agreement that this magazine, called PRODUCE BUSINESS, is less a job, than a privilege. That our work is elevating and purposeful beyond the commercial calculations of the day.
The vision lives, though, because an industry, this industry, saw in some paper and ink a manuscript, or perhaps a hymn, for greatness. A vision that did not die in lifeless ink, unread and unappreciated, but that was seized from the small farm to the terminal market, from the retailers’ glorious forums to the foodservice operators’ buying office. So the vision gained altitude and became a kind of light, illuminating the path to the future while unveiling the substance of our history.
Our special place has always been tomorrow, and so, on this birthday, our inclination is not so much to remember the past but to envision the future. We do this in public ways; we’ll continue our anniversary celebration next year with an issue dedicated to clarifying the future of this trade. But we celebrate in quiet ways too, in our own hopes and dreams and plans.
Ten years ago, Ken Whitacre and I stood on the loading dock of the Moscone Center at the PMA convention in 1985. We awaited the very first issue of PRODUCE BUSINESS. I can think of few things to compare to the pride we felt holding that issue. Yet, it cannot compare to the pride we feel today knowing that we were present at the creation of, what is now, an industry institution.
To all those who have been a part of this trade during the last decade, please accept our heartfelt thanks. We are what we are because you have embraced us. And please accept a promise that the accomplishments of the next decade will make the last look like a breeze.