Follow the Journey
It’s often said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Each of our participants is on a journey; it will be long, it will be hard, it will often have breakdowns and even wrong directions. But it will be worth it! Check in on them weekly and cheer them on.
MEET THE CLEAN EATERS
Meet this year’s featured participants! They are just a few of the produce industry professionals who are taking on the Clean Eating Challenge. These amazing men and women have stepped up to challenge themselves and have agreed to share their journey during the next several months. Get to know them and follow their journey to wellness. Let them inspire you!
Hey y’all! My name is Beth and I’ve been in the fresh produce industry for 10 years helping fresh produce brands with public relations and marketing. I grew up in Southern California where I fell in love with fresh produce and had access to healthy food everywhere. Then, when I moved to Texas six years ago I found myself indulging in more BBQ and Tex Mex than I thought it was possible
It’s true when they say “everything is bigger in Texas,” including portion sizes and now my pant size.
I’ve watched several colleagues in the industry go through the Clean Eating Challenge and inspire me with their commitment to eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and moving more, so I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to join in this year. I’m here to make the changes I know will help give me energy for the things I love to do and provide long-term health benefits for my family. I also want to live with integrity as a fresh produce marketer by practicing what I preach – it’s one thing to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables, but it’s another to prioritize them as part of a healthy lifestyle. Let’s do this!
Blair Butterworth was born In Salinas, California and raised in Clovis, California. She attended California State University, Fresno where she received a BA in Agricultural Business. Upon graduation, Butterworth moved to Newport Beach, California joining Grimmway Farms/Cal-Organic Farms, the world’s largest producer of carrots and the nation’s largest
producer of organic vegetables. During Butterworths 5 years at Grimmway Farms as an Outside Sales and Merchandising Specialist she immersed herself in the produce industry and quickly fell in love with the face paced ever evolving industry.
Today, Blair Butterworth serves as the Marketing Manager for Pacific Trellis Fruit/Dulcinea Farms. She is heavily involved with the Fresh Produce and Floral Council by serving on 4 different committees. When not working, she enjoys spending time with friends and family, cooking, and traveling.
Hi, I’m Dan. I’m an IT guy / data junkie turned Ag advocate that lives in Milwaukee, WI. I’ve been a part of the IT industry for 20 years and never thought I’d pivot into the produce industry until my friend asked me in early 2021 to join her company, FullTilt Marketing, as a Sr. Project Manager. So I took a chance and dove head first into this awesome industry with reckless abandon. Since
joining I’ve been all over the country rolling around in fields (I have picture proof), talking with farmers, packing sheds and importers learning the ropes. What an adventure so far!
I’m almost 40, I’m 80 pounds overweight, and my kids have started noticing. This summer my son wanted to start running and approached me to ask, “Hey dad, can we go running?” He quickly followed up his question with, “well, you’re ankle probably hurts and I’m sure you’re really tired because you had a long day. You probably just want to relax, I’ll just go run around the yard.” My heart broke. My 9 year old son used the years of excuses I gave him against himself. Just this week my daughter told me that her friend revealed to her “your dad is not as strong as my dad and your dad can’t lift heavy things.” Sure, it’s kids talking, but it’s true! I haven’t truly taken care of myself in over 15 years!
My relationship with food has always been a delicate dance. I’m that guy that loves to cook amazing food. I’m always trying a new recipe, no matter the ethnicity. I’m the guy that asks you to lunch and we go to great places with amazing flavors. I always knew which restaurants had the best lunch specials and where to go for amazing dinners. Food is the great equalizer and has been there when I was building great relationships, but food has been my crutch. It’s what I call on when I have a bad day, when things aren’t going my way or when I need a “pick me up”. It’s a drug.
My long-term goal is to live to be a healthy 85 year old and live the fullest life possible while I’m making my way there. Maybe I’ll slow down when I hit 85, maybe not. I’m still going to enjoy good food, but I know I will not be able to reach my long-term goal living the way I have been the last 20 years. There needs to be a change, a major pivot into a mentality I’ve never had: behavioral discipline in and around my attitude about food.
George Szczepanski is PMA’s Director of Membership for Business Service Providers, driving strategy and benefits for this group. George has been a part of the PMA staff for over ten years in the Business Development and Membership teams. Prior to joining PMA, he had experiences working in the produce industry dealing with imports, local produce
promotions, and Ag finance. He received his BS in Food Marketing at St. Joseph’s University and MS in Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics from the University of Delaware.
George’s health journey used cardio as a proxy for healthy eating for much of his 20’s and beyond. Now, dealing with a back injury that keeps him from running the miles that he used to, it’s time to confront the some of the eating habits that are keeping him from the healthy lifestyle he wants to live… especially to be around for his two small children for many years to come.
I am 25 years old and am married to my best friend, Julianna. We live with our crazy cat, Rory. We love doing some occasional hiking in the Summer/Spring/Fall and hiding from the cold in the Winter. We are big movie buffs and love to see anything and everything; ideally we would be at the movie theater every evening. I grew up in Seattle WA; though I have been all over, living in San Antonio, TX for about
five years as well as a couple years in Romania, which I loved.
I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Applied Statistics from BYU – Idaho I currently work as the Senior Data Analyst for Category Partners (CP). CP manages data analytics and primary research for producers and marketers across the Produce, Deli, Dairy, Meat and Bakery industries.
As I am still on the front end of my career and life; I have been hoping, though not as successfully as I want, to apply and gain some skills in regards to exercise, fitness, and healthy eating. Breaking into the produce industry has allowed me the opportunity to appreciate and be conscious of my produce purchasing and consumption. My soda and fast-food consumption, unfortunately, are not nearly as conscious and it is very infrequent that I set aside time to exercise or train my body.
Ultimately my hope for this challenge is that I gain an increased ability to commit to healthy schedules and to consistently taking better care of myself. It would be wonderful if the side-effects of those goals were some minor weight loss, increased energy, and better more restful sleep. I look forward to sharing my journey and hopefully inspire myself, if not one or two others, with committed steps toward seeking real long-lasting life change.
Hi I am Jay Alley. I am a Co-Owner and Partner of Fresh Innovations Llc. I have been in the Grocery / Produce Business for the last 43 years. I am excited to be a part of the TIPA Clean Eating Challenge. I have learned that no one can force you to choose a Healthy Lifestyle, you have to make that decision on your own. While i am doing the Challenge for myself, i am also
Jeffrey is a West Texas native that has been in the Rio Grande Valley since 2004 working in various sectors of the agriculture industry. As an agronomist and Certified Crop Advisor, Jeffrey enjoys working with farmers and agriculture companies to help them succeed. He currently works as a Regional Sales Manager for Decco Postharvest, working closely with fruit and vegetable
sheds to maximize their food safety and product shelf life programs. Jeffrey is married with two daughters and enjoys following Texas Tech athletics and playing a round of golf when time permits. Always having the dream to farm, Jeffrey and his family operate a small market farm at their house where they grow vegetables and herbs as a form of relaxation, physical activity, and learning for the children.
Jeremy Taylor is Vice President of Sales & Marketing at DNO Produce. DNO Produce is a fresh cut processor and wholesale distributor serving the Great Lakes, Midwest and East Coast. Jeremy is also a member of #Class26 of the International Fresh Produce Association Leadership Program.
DNO’s business is rooted in giving children access to fresh
fruits and vegetables through programs such as National School Lunch Program and FFVP. Jeremy’s efforts in the clean eating challenge surround making his own self healthier while allowing children to do the same.
A happy story this is not but a happy conclusion will make this challenge a saving grace and blessing. This clean eating challenge means much more to me that just another weight loss contest. For me, this is literally a life or death situation and could be the catalyst I need for a complete shift in mindset and lifestyle. More than a year ago I was introduced to the concept
of food being medicine and watching the last challenge contestants blaze a trail of us “living our business” not only gave me inspiration but more importantly gave me hope. Being on nearly 10 different daily medications currently I am beginning to understand that a plant-based diet that God has made available to us for health and healing could be my saving grace so to speak. I am convinced that food is in fact medicine and am looking forward to proving that while getting off all meds and regaining my health. Through a plant-based diet and healthy lifestyle, I will no longer be dependent on bad diagnoses and throwing pills at all my health problems. Time to take responsibility and control and stop depending on Doctors to do it for me.
I am in my 30th Year of the produce business but grew up in the industry on our Family farm in Rio Grande City, TX as a third generation produce man. Started in the fields, then on to the packing shed, trucking and marketing culls on various produce markets. I continued working the farm and packing shed all the way through College until I moved up to Houston on a Training assignment from the Blue Jays during my brief Pro baseball career. A severe arm injury and broken neck I received earlier in a college football practice ended my baseball dreams. This was the first time in my life I had realized I would not be a professional athlete. Luckily, I had the hard work mentality and intestinal fortitude instilled in me by my Father and Uncle on the farm that all farmers possess.
I remained in Houston but had a difficult time understanding people outside of the produce business. The business was a part of me whether I liked it at the time or not so I jumped back in with both feet. I started in operations then moved into outside food service sales. My break came from an offer to become a broker with Tom Lange Co. in Houston and was fortunate enough to have some of the greatest mentors I have ever had in my career. This was my experience with other aspects of our business that opened my eyes to the absolute complexity of getting fresh produce from farm to table and brought me full circle in my knowledge of produce from field to table.
In the late 90’s there was a tremendous need for Food Safety solutions in our industry due to several companies falling victim to some major food borne illness outbreaks that ultimately put them out of business. I had always had a passion for Science and food safety, and this was the first time I would be able to combine those passions with the industry I knew and loved. I left Tom Lange Co. so that I could begin development of my Safety Wash System. My invention was the very first complete food safety system in the U.S. My process eliminated any non-edible organic matter, Pathogenic or pesticide residues that potentially would be on fresh produce without leaving behind any chemical residue of its own. Essentially making conventionally grown produce the first “ready to eat” fresh produce item in the market. The Safety Wash System process equipment I developed was unique in that it was designed to be a complete redundant system that sanitized itself continuously while in operation to avoid potential human error or sanitation shutdowns hourly. It was a true Food Safety System from Processing facility to table.
This eventually led to the worst and most challenging part of my entire life. Consumers loved and demanded our ready to eat sanitized products, but the industry fought me tooth and nail to keep me out of the marketplace. Mind you, this was way before Primus, SQF etc. and before anyone knew what H.A.C.C.P. even stood for. In all the early research and development stages of my process I exposed myself to incredible amounts of toxic off gases that, unbeknownst to me or any published literature for that matter, began a series of health problems no doctors could properly diagnose. Since my process was the first of its kind there were no documentation or studies conducted on the hazards. I had no choice but to expose myself to this toxicity to develop systems to protect others from being exposed so they would have a safe environment to work in. I succeeded in creating a safe environment for our employees but the damage to myself had been done. The oxidative stress I endured led to metabolic syndrome, type II diabetes, and uncontrollable weight gain amongst other health issues that continued to pile up over the years.
All this time being actively involved in the produce business by day I had continued to follow my other passion which was to help other baseball players avoid career ending injuries like what I had to endure. So, every evening after work I trained athletes and coaches plus helped many recover from injuries while teaching them the proper mechanics to avoid future injuries. I continue to help baseball players to this day and it has been such a blessing since moving back to the Valley 3 years ago to help our kids down here and in Mexico. In just the last three years I have assisted more than 20 local players to get college scholarships to play baseball realizing their lifelong dreams. I have helped hundreds of kids succeed at the College and Professional levels as well as many that were cut for various reasons get back on the field to realize their dreams of playing at the next level. Helping these athletes keeps me grounded while dealing with the stress and grind of our industry. Focusing on others has always kept my mind in the correct state whenever I begin to feel sorry for myself or feel selfish.
During my health decline and several untimely unfortunate coincidences, I was being pushed out by forces much larger than myself and our small family owned business. Attorneys were clamoring for my intellectual properties forcing me to shut down and file for bankruptcy to protect my inventions. I lost everything I had worked so hard for in the blink of an eye. Our vehicles were re-possessed as well as practically everything else we owned. Right when we felt things could not get any worse our middle son was diagnosed with a tumor in his femoral head. When we left for MD Anderson for his surgery, we returned to our home being foreclosed on and had to find somewhere to live very quickly. My wife was pregnant with our youngest and we had no insurance, job or any other way to make income other than my baseball lessons. Our friends and the industry that I grew up in abandoned us in our most dire time.
For many this would have been tempting to end it all but my farming background, work ethic and strong family support made me refuse to quit. I took on multiple jobs and continued to stay focused on helping others, most of whom had no idea we were suffering so much.
Long story short, my middle son had a full recovery and is a Senior at Texas A&M, our oldest recently graduated from Texas Tech and is doing very well in his career and our Youngest is excelling in his Jr. Year of high school. My wife and I recently celebrated our 27th anniversary and all in all keeping God front and center of our family got us through all of these difficult times.
Now we are back in the Rio Grande Valley and I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time. Working for Val Verde Vegetable Co. and the Schuster family has been some of the greatest healing I’ve had in a long time. Back to the farm and selling our own product is where I am the happiest. I also now have students all over the country and continue to help baseball players reach new heights they never thought possible.
Time to step up the next chapter and heal physically now that I am in a good place mentally and emotionally. I am very thankful to TIPA, and Viva Fresh for creating this challenge and to the trail blazers who participated in the first challenge. They were a true inspiration and gave many of us hope to pursue a heathier lifestyle.
I am also thankful to one of my early produce mentors, Rich Dachman with Brighter Bites, who was the first in our industry that I know of to begin preaching that “we must live our business by consuming what we sell and living the healthy lifestyle we promote.”
Hello everyone, my name is Jessica Ortega and I have been in the produce industry for 22 years. I have had the pleasure of working for Gills Onions for my entire career. Gills Onions has given me the opportunity to grow within the company as well as grow as a person.
I have been married for 18 years and have two beautiful daughters and an amazing husband.
My daughters mean the world to me, and I would do anything for them. My girls are 12 years apart and the little one keeps me and everyone she meets on our toes. She was born with a rare genetic disorder that was not diagnosed until she was three years old. Since then, I have vowed to get her all the help she needs plus more. I have devoted my days and nights to her needs. Most of the time compromising my own needs. I have continuously put myself last in line and need to kickstart this new journey, not only for myself but for my family. My wonderful husband repeatedly tells me, “Jessica you can’t help others if you don’t stop and help yourself first”. So here I am ready to venture out on this new journey. I am ready to become a better me.
My goal is to have a better relationship with food. I want to hold myself accountable for what goes into my body. I want to set realistic expectations that I can follow for years to come. I want to stop using my situation as the excuse to not be healthy but instead have my situation be the excuse as to why I must be healthy.
Mark Campbell learned the fresh produce industry as the CFO of J&J Family of Farms. Since then, he served as CFO consultant to eight produce-industry clients, ranging from growers to foodservice distributors.
After witnessing the unique challenges of the fresh produce supply chain, Mark cofounded ProduceIQ with a vision for
Farming is truly a labor of love. As a fourth generation born and raised farm girl from Fresno County, California, it is safe say that agriculture is even woven into my DNA.
Although my upbringing was in the fresh grape, raisin and wine grape industry, the place I now call home is onions. I have the privilege working for Gills Onions as Vice
President of Sales & Marketing, and every day I get to share with customers my passion for healthy soil and how we grow our food.
I truly believe there is a magic found within fresh produce and being connected more to your food. And like the many layers found within an onion, my approach to this of holistic health and wellness has many layers too. Achieving better sleep, having more energy and balancing stress levels are my priorities the next six months. I invite you to join me in this journey.
My Name is Pat Young, and I am the Director of Grower Sales for IFCO North America. At IFCO, our goal is to make the global fresh food supply chain sustainable. I have currently been in this role since June, and prior to that, I was the National Account Manager for IFCO Canada. I currently live in Windsor, Ontario, Canada (right across the river from Detroit) with my wife Jen,
My name is T.J. I have been in the produce industry for 18 years full time, but technically my career started far earlier when I would “work” at my family’s wholesale business in Jessup, MD during summers and breaks from school. For years I have been an advocate for eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, but I have not walked the walk in my own life. That changes now. I have
three young boys that look up to me and I need to be a better influence when it comes to leading a healthy lifestyle. My struggles with food and maintaining a healthy weight over the years have led to numerous mental and physical challenges and I am excited to see how much of that I can erase over the next few months. I am looking forward to sharing my journey with all of you!
OUR PEER MENTORS
And let’s not forget about our Peer Mentors! Three of our mentors were last year’s Clean Eating Challenge Participants who did so well and loved the changes they made in their life toward better health that they wanted to help others in the same way. Two of them are brand new but have also changed their lives on their own or just have a passion for healthy lifestyles. Together, these five mentors motivate and lead our Clean Eating Challenge participants each week throughout this six month challenge in an effort to share what they know and what has worked for them. Read about them below and get to know them better!
Last year I went on this challenge for a couple of reasons. I was on more medication than I wanted, poor lifestyle choices and the big reason, I became a Grandpa and want to be around to see them grow up. My journey took me out of the 260’s to the 230’s and then…Hello Covid. I took the mentor role for a couple of reasons. One to share what I learned and share any ideas I could, but also restart and
finish my journey. My new goal is to get as close to 200 as I can.
What a Blessing we can be for our families but also walk the walk to increase consumption of what we grow. I can’t wait for Viva Fresh and the results of our amazing participants, as well as my own.
I was born and raised in the Valley of South Texas. I am a father of two young girls and they are a big reason for my “why” when it comes to living an active and healthy lifestyle. Growing up in a produce family, fruits and especially vegetables were staples on our plates. This is something that my wife and I have incorporated into our own children’s lives to ensure healthy development. Having two young children has kept me accountable in terms of setting the
right example when it comes to remaining physically active and feeding my body with proper nutrition.
When the opportunity to become a mentor for the Clean Eating Challenge came up I was very excited to be involved and share the insight I have accrued over the years to assist people looking for how to lead a more healthy lifestyle. So far the journey has been insightful for me and I have really enjoyed working with the folks on the team. Everyone faces a different set of circumstances or challenges and I think its great that we’ve put together something that can help support someone’s aspirations to improve their way of life.
I’m 42 years old, married, and father of two. When I was 38 years old I weighed 225 lbs. My triglycerides were close to 400. My good cholesterol was low, my bad cholesterol was high and my A1C numbers were tracking towards pre-diabetes. I often felt like crap. I was especially lethargic at the office after lunch. I was also always complaining about sore joints, bad knees, bad back, poor sleep and general malaise that I often attributed to getting older. Worst of all, I
THOUGHT that I was eating relatively healthy, and getting more exercise than most. It turns out, that most all of my problems had more to do with poor diet and lack of exercise than getting older. I went to a cardiologist who told me that if I didn’t change what I was doing, I would be diabetic within a few years. I started making changes, slow at first, but gradually I noticed the positive results. With a little momentum from success and encouragement family/friends/doctor, I was able to begin making changes that I NEVER would have thought were possible. Now, at 42, I weigh 195 lbs and I’m in the best shape that I have been in since college and I’m still making strides towards a healthier me. My numbers are all within a healthy range. Best of all, what I’m doing is sustainable and I do not feel deprived from foods that I like nor do I feel like I’m “spinning my wheels” in the gym for no results.
I try to exercise and be active throughout week but make no mistake, the best thing I did to achieve my current level of health was to eat cleaner, more natural foods, including lots of fruits and vegetables.
Lupus Warrior here! I had the opportunity to participate in the 2020 Clean Eating Challenge. Saying clean eating was a cure-all is a stretch, but I will say the steps I took on my clean eating journey cured all my doubts of being able to live a long healthy life with Lupus. Flare ups for me could be as minor as a full red face to as severe as losing feeling in my legs and arms. To date my flare ups are at the lowest they’ve ever been. Thanks to my new routine in nutrition, mental health and exercise this is the most confident I have ever felt in my life. My biggest
support system comes from my husband whom I fell in love with at fifteen years old. My Super fan is my aunt who has been at my corner since I was in diapers. Most important the one who keeps me up at night to be a better me every day is my daughter who is named after the Little Mermaid.
Serving you from Pflugerville, Texas your Friendly Produce Buyer from H-E-B. Let me pay it forward and help you on your journey. No one is too old to take baby steps.
I’m 46 and I feel better than I did in my 30s. I wanted to prove my commitment to the industry and to my profession, and since then it’s become so much more. At the beginning of the challenge, my main motivator was essentially not to fail and to be a good example both for the industry and for Viva Fresh. I knew I needed to do this and I knew the accountability associated with everybody knowing about this challenge would keep me on the straight and narrow.
I started where I didn’t want to fail, and I didn’t want to be the guy that didn’t make any gains or didn’t get any better. In passing one day, Craig Slate said to me, “I know one day it’s going to be the end for me, but how I choose that end to be I can affect now,” and that really stood out to me. Am I going to be actually living my life all the way to end? With this perspective shift, I took to the self-discipline necessary to successfully carry out the challenge. I didn’t expect to have the way I think about food change so much. When I really thought about food as a way to fuel my body, my life, and my lifestyle, it changed everything. I know it sounds corny, but I dare say it changed my life. When I began this challenge, I was on the borderline for needing medication for blood sugar and cholesterol, among other things. Since then, I dropped 45 pounds—and feel better than I have in years.
Starting to work at the young age of 13 as the mark boy at the Northern Lake George Yacht Club I discovered that I have a passion for being around people. And little did I know then, a little about volunteer management and running a non-profit organization. This led me to become a US Sailing Certified instructor at the age of 17, and started to teach at the East Coast’s largest sailing school teaching adults from 25-65 the fun and joy of sailing. (For those that have sailed I see you smiling as you read this). Teaching adults how to sail (old dog, new tricks) taught me patience, communication and respect for different learning abilities. During college and for a couple of years after I worked at Safeway as Food Clerk, and towards the end Dairy Merchandiser. This taught me merchandising, customer service, and the value of the food dollar. I learned a little bit about supply chain and order replenishment at this time.
In September 1999 during my day’s off from Safeway I temped at United Fresh in the accounting department. One thing has led to another and I now find myself 19 rewarding years later as the VP, Convention and Industry Collaboration. My work here has capitalized on everything I learned during my formative years from managing vendors, selling exhibit space, growing attendance and working with all convention partners to maximize value to all stakeholders in the event. While at United Fresh, I have learned ALOT about fresh produce, and even more about persistence, strategy vs. tactical management, sales, convention operations, and marketing.
What I have never done throughout my childhood or adult life is think about what I was putting in my own mouth and the impact that it has on my future and my families future. The focus on health, as opposed to enjoyment and over-ordering, has to become my #1 priority in my life. I am looking forward to this challenge of simplifying my diet, thinking about what I choose to eat and the benefits it will create. And in doing so, I come out for the better of it? Consider me to be “All In”, one of my favorite Texas card game.