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!

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Marcia green

Hello! I have been in the ag industry for 35 years.  Prior to ag I worked for a big tech firm, then one day I received a call, “what do you think about moving to Chile and growing flowers?”  It sounded dreamy. I quit my job, sold our house, and moved the family.  The business grew, the family grew, and all was well until the 7-year drought, property became arid and it was time for us to

return to the U.S.A.  after 28 years abroad.

I had never been overweight, even after having 4 kids, I remained active. Running, swimming, biking, and a black belt in karate.  However, when I returned to the USA, everything came to an abrupt halt.  I began eating everything, like McDonalds, Del Taco, Carl’s JR., work had become demanding, the US culture had changed, and I wasn’t prepared for the Politically Correct.

Sure enough, by my birthday, I had gained 40lbs. and BTW, mirrors do lie.

I read an article about the Viva Fresh Challenge and thought, “wow, what a great way to get motivated”.  I joined and became a featured participant.   I have cut out all the fast food, YEAH! no more soda pop, and walking every day.  I am committed to living a healthier lifestyle and retaking what I had lost, thanks to the help from the Viva Fresh Challenge.

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Amy Sowder

Hi, I’m Amy, the Northeast editor of The Packer for the last two years, my entry into trade journalism. Before that, I was a mainstream-media journalist for 15 years, covering food, fitness and wellness for the last 9 years, at consumer publications such as USA Today newspapers, Bon Appetit magazine, Women’s Health magazine, Men’s Health Magazine, Chowhound,

Upworthy and Eat This, Not That.

So, I know the right ways to eat and exercise. But doing it is another matter. I’ve shown I can make major change in the past, when I lost about 100 pounds almost 11 years ago.

And while I gained about 20% back, I’m happy with that. But then my life changed, when I had a baby late last year and moved out of NYC, where I walked everywhere (fast, like a NYer!) and used the subway with all those flights of stairs, and couldn’t buy more groceries than I could carry home in my own arms.

I moved to the suburbs, and now I drive everywhere. There’s no built-in commuting exercise. And with the pandemic, I work from home. With a new baby constantly vying for my attention as well, getting back into a workout routine has been difficult to say the least. I no longer have my NYC workout buddies to get me up and out early mornings, nor do I have group gym classes to discipline me with a schedule and positive peer pressure.

My main goals are to get stronger and more toned. While I still go for a run a couple times a week at random times, that doesn’t give me muscle strength. I’m an older first-time mom, and I want to be able to keep up with my kid as we both age. I want a set workout routine that varies the type of exercise: strength, cardio and stretching. That’s when I feel my best.

There is also room for improvement in my eating habits. I might need someone to come over and yank the bowl of ice cream out of my death-like grip late at night, because I don’t want to give that up. But maybe I don’t have to. When I lost a bunch of weight all those years ago, I still had a little dessert every night—often it included fresh fruit though. Instead of restricting the sugar, carbs and dairy I turn to for the convenience and comfort they bring, I want to focus on eating more fresh fruits and vegetables. More is more fun, no?

Eating well — less processed, more whole foods — takes planning, time, creativity and above all, motivation. That’s what I’m hoping to get from this challenge: Accountability (in public…eeek!), motivation and momentum. It’s so hard to change the habits that don’t serve me, but once I get going, I can be committed.

I don’t have to return to my pre-baby self in order to feel like a success, but I want to be my best strongest self today.

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Ashley porter

Howdy from Pflugerville, Texas! Ashley Ojeda Porter is my name but follow me and you can call me Ash. I’m your friendly H-E-B produce buyer. Proud H-E-B partner since 2004. That said, I am 34yrs old. I have a thirteen-year-old going on thirty (those that have teens know exactly what I mean). I joke about my daughter, but ultimately, she is the one I want to impress throughout this

 journey. How neat is it; that a series of steps over the next six months will be taking me to a different place. Hopefully a healthier place in my life that will be long term. 

Coincidently, the day my doctor told me I had to be more strict with my eating habits was the same day I received this email reminder “…today is the last day to register interest in participation for the Viva Fresh Clean Eating Challenge.” If that wasn’t a clear enough sign, I don’t know what is. Most assume I’m as healthy as they come. That’s simply not true. I’m one of the 1.5 million people that have Lupus. For those that don’t know this is an autoimmune disease. As it stands today there is no cure.

Along with educating myself on how to live a healthier lifestyle I hope to raise awareness about my disease.  I’m ready to put this “Food is Medicine” to the test. If this theory is correct, then my Lupus should go into remission by the time this challenge is over. Either way at least I’ll lose some pounds and get my 2016 golden gloves boxing body back.

Follow me on my journey. Looking forward to connecting with those that can relate and those that can share some good healthy tips.

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Jen Velasquez

Hi, I’m Jen and I’ve been in the produce industry for over 14 years, when I started marketing and promoting fruits and veggies to the industry and to consumers. As an SMU graduate, Texas holds a special place in my heart and love that I get to work with TIPA and Texas produce! I followed last year’s Clean Eating Challenge participants and loved witnessing their amazing

results – who doesn’t love a good before and after story? Having marketed healthy products pretty much since graduating from college (fun fact: my first job was at a public relations agency in Dallas and my first client was Central Market!) along with trying to eat healthy and lose weight during the same time period, I feel like I have a pretty good basis and understanding of what to eat more of and what to limit. The hard part is when life gets in the way – travel for work and pleasure, social events – and I don’t stick to my plan. COVID has certainly taken some of the travel and gatherings with friends away and given me a good start –now I am ready to keep going by incorporating more fruits and vegetables and less processed foods as I make my way to my goal!

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Bret Erickson

Hola, my name is Bret Erickson.  I grew up in McAllen Texas, located in the Rio Grande Valley.  I have worked in the agricultural industry my entire career ever since I graduated from Texas Tech University in 1997 where I obtained my degree in Agricultural Economics.  I am Sr. VP for Business Affairs at Little Bear Produce, but some of you may know me from my time as President & CEO at

time as President & CEO at Texas International Produce Association.  I am a very proud founding member of the VIVA Fresh Expo and all the great things that have come from VIVA Fresh.

To be very transparent, I am not sure how I feel about personally taking on this challenge.  My enthusiasm ebbs and flows from day to day.  For those who know me best know I am a huge foodie and I love to socialize and stiff cocktail.  I miss traveling as well as the gatherings of our industry because I have so many friends and people I love to see. I love people, exciting and interesting places, great food, good drink, great conversation and lots of laughs.

With all that said, eating clean and putting myself out there for all of you to watch me bumble my way through this journey is a little daunting.  I don’t like the thought of giving up good food and drink (when I say good, I mean bad, like ribeyes, pastas, bread, pizza, wings, anything fried, etc.)   I also can’t say I’m too excited about incorporating an exercise regimen.  I like to get home at the end of the day and have a cocktail with my wife and shoot the breeze, I don’t want to go jog or work out, I want to chillax.  On the flip side, at age 45, I could stand to make some changes to improve the overall quality of my health.

So why not get the exercise in early? I HATE getting up early.  If you’ve seen Stepbrothers, “I am no good before 11am.”  Ok, that’s an exaggeration, but seriously, I am not a morning person and I am very much aware that where “produce people” are early risers, I am a black sheep.  On a related note, when any of you look at Ed Bertaud’s “after” picture, does it remind you of the Stepbrothers movie poster?

My mentor also happens to be my boss (although he doesn’t like me to say that), my colleague, my little brother, and one of my best friends. He’s disciplined with his eating and training. He wakes at 4am to start working out at 4:30am most days (LOCO!!). In this business we’ve been through ups and downs, highs and lows, lots of stress, tons of challenges, but we always share some laughs and we are having fun along the way. I don’t want to let him down as my mentor, but I recognize any changes will ultimately be the result of my actions.  I’m hoping to lose 40-50 pounds in the next 6 months, that’s a lot of pressure and a big commitment knowing my mentor and so many of my friends in the industry and family members are watching what I do.

At any rate, this will be an interesting journey.  I’m hoping to have as much fun with it as possible.  I’m certain I will occasionally gripe and complain, but I am looking forward to sharing some stories and content with all of you, perhaps grocery shopping and meal prep, maybe even some workout stuff, and possibly the occasional bickering match with James.

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Roxanne Martinez

Hello, my name is Roxanne and I have been in the produce business for 21 years.  I worked for 9 years for a local watermelon grower who packed, shipped and sold watermelons all over the US and parts of Canada.  Then I joined my current employer where we pack, ship and sell many different items all over the US and Canada. I was born and raised in Deep South Texas. The

South Texas.  The area here is HOT and humid and surrounded by vegetables, fruit, grains and cotton, of course.  Living so close to the US-Mexico border we have access to such a large variety of fruits and vegetables daily year around.  I grew up eating mostly fruits, and love them, as opposed to eating candy. Thanks, Mom!  I love vegetables, as well!  I think a love for food has kind of always been my go to.  I stress, I eat. I celebrate, I eat.  I LOVE FOOD!

In high school, I thought I was fat and, like many, now look back and realize I wasn’t.  After high school graduation I put on the freshman 15(times 2).  I was going to college and working and started enjoying all the bad food and drink items too much. I was almost 200 lbs when I got pregnant with my son.  I had trouble losing the “baby fat”.  Just a note, he is almost 16 years old and I still have not lost some of that “baby fat”.  So now many years later, with reversible health issues and a teenage son who is conscious about his weight, I need to get my act together for our health.  I know my hubby and I aren’t getting any younger and we as parents need to be the example for our son’s healthy future. 

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Tim Hodges

My name is Tim and I’ve been working in the agriculture insurance business for 40 years.   It’s been an interesting ride seeing innovation changes along the way. Actually agriculture was my second or third career choice.  My first choice was a military route while a member of The Fighting Texas Aggies Corps of Cadets.  Then I met this girl and we elected not to contract with a service

branch.  I then focused on ag lending/real estate.  Again my fiancée and I decided to turn down ag lending job offers located more than 2 hours from any major airport.  That’s when I stumbled into ag insurance.   I’m a sixth generation Texan, born in Fort Worth, majored in Agriculture at Texas A&M, married in 1980, raised 2 sons, enjoy playing golf, volunteer at collegiate and PGA golf events, played soccer for 30 years and enjoy watching the USA Women’s Team, and now find myself about 60 pounds overweight.  

I learned about the Clean Eating Challenge through the ag industry blogs I follow.  Reading the requirements, I noticed the annual convention is to be held in Dallas the Spring of 2021 so I submitted my name.  Converting to cooking fresh will be easy and entertaining for me because I cook 90% of the meals at home and it will give me an opportunity to experiment.  Our vegetarian daughter-in-law might also benefit from my cooking.  Avoiding heavy carbs will be the hurdle to accomplish my weight goal.  

It sounds like our group will have plenty of interesting personal accomplishments, information to share, and possible perseverance lags along our journey.  I look forward to share those experiences and help motivate wherever possible. 

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Lance Peterson

My name is Lance A. Peterson, I am 49 years old and originally from Mission, TX., I have been involved directly in the Ag. Industry for over 25 years.  After finishing my studies at Texas A&M, I accepted a job offer in Colima, Mexico to farm for Starr Produce Company (our family and close friends) in 1996 growing watermelons and honeydews.  In 2006, I had the opportunity to buy,

along with my dad and a couple of great coworkers, the Mexico operation from Starr Produce and the rest is history.  We started farming papayas along with honeydews and watermelons.  In 2016, we opened our shed, Super Starr International, in Pharr, TX and started selling direct all our production of papayas and a part of our honeydews.  My time is split almost 50/50 going between Colima, Mexico and RGV, TX. My family and I live in Colima, Mexico, spending as much time as possible together, whether its in Mexico or Texas.

 

Since getting back to the Rio Grande Valley, I have gotten involved with the Texas International Produce Association and started participating in Viva Fresh.  It’s been great to seeing old faces and meeting all the new people involved in produce now in Texas. Last year, I had been following the Viva Fresh Clean Eating Challenge and ran into Ed Bertaud at an event and almost did not recognize him. Ed told about how he felt better than ever, that was enough to convince me that I needed to do the Challenge. I have had a few too many Stripes breakfast tacos, since I started going back to the RGV.  As soon as I saw the email publicizing this year’s Clean Eating Challenge, I filled everything out right away and was lucky enough to be selected.

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Blake LaGrange

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.”  

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Blake LaGrange

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.”  

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John Toner

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 also learned 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, when I started teaching at the East Coast’s largest sailing school teaching

adults ages 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 dogs, 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 later as Dairy Merchandiser. This taught me merchandising, customer service, and the value of the food dollar. I also learned a little bit about supply chain and order replenishment at this time.

In September 1999, I temped at the accounting department at United Fresh during my days off from Safeway. One thing has led to another and I now find myself 21 rewarding years later as 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 of our event. While at United Fresh, I have learned A LOT 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 family’s future.  The focus on health as opposed to enjoyment or over-ordering has to become my #1 priority in life.  I am looking forward to this challenge of simplifying my diet, thinking about what I eat and the benefits it will create.  And in doing so, I will hopefully come out better for it!  Consider me to be “All In,” one of my favorite Texas card games.

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Kimberly averdaño

Howdy y’all! My name is Kimberly, and I am kind of a newbie in the produce world. I started in this field back in November 2018. I was a total pro at buying and consuming fruits and veggies NOT so much on the selling side. However, I feel I have come a long way in just my short time in the industry. As a Mission, Texas native I grew up around citrus and live for when

that amazing smell of burning citrus peel wafts through the air. Actually, to this day, I still live across the street from a big beautiful crop of sugar cane.

 

Enough with all that though, let us get to the good stuff. So about the 3rd grade I started to see a change in not only my weight but my mental health as well and to be completely honest at this point in time I couldn’t tell you which came into play first. For me it seems it has always just gone hand in hand. The more down and depressed I felt on that certain day the more I ate. However, around my early 20s is when my weight really started to get out of control. At one point my highest weight was 420lbs. No, I am not pulling your leg… It is true and on this 5’6” gal it did not look too good. My “AHA!” moment was when for the first time ever on a flight I had to ask for a seatbelt extender. I was mortified!!! Thus, began my slow, sometimes VERY slow but always steady trend of trying to do better.

 

Over the past couple of years, I had lost a total of 90lbs. I know right?! 90lbs… that’s like a small person! Then COVID hit and so have the pounds. Sadly, I have gained 20 pounds back in just a few short months. Which brings me to this great adventure. I have gotten to the mindset of REALLY wanting to push myself in the right direction and I think this health challenge will be just the trick. So, I hope y’all will follow along on my journey to a new me and maybe even find some inspiration for yourself in the process.

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CHRIS DIAZ​

Good day all. My name is Chris Diaz and I am 34 years old. I have been privileged to be in the produce industry for 12 years. My first job out of college was supposed to be just a job, as I was planning to join law enforcement when the time was right. Little did I know, law enforcement was not the path for me. I started out in a shipping packing facility for Sunkist Growers. I was

was blessed to have been given the opportunity to stay within the citrus packing facility and promote within the company. I eventually left after 6 years and accepted an opportunity at Sunkist Growers corporate office and have not looked back. I have been at Sunkist for 6 years and have been fortunate enough to work with amazing people in a dynamic and fast-paced industry.

 

Back in 2009, I married my high school sweetheart. We have been together for a total 18 years. We have three beautiful girls who make my life so unpredictable yet so exciting all at the same time. In terms of my lifestyle, I have been very active my entire life. I played three sports in high school along with two sports in college. I love the outdoors and have enjoyed challenging myself in different ways: Spartan runs, Muddy Warrior runs, triathlons, etc. The problem I have run into is my nutrition. I have been able to eat what I want and not see a change in my body, the problem is although I did not see a physical change, I felt it in my sleep along with my energy levels.

 

When I read about the Viva Fresh Challenge, I thought, here we go. This is a great opportunity to buckle down, stay disciplined, and focus on my nutrition. I filled out the application as a feature participant and here we are! I am dedicated to live a healthier lifestyle and set an example for not only my girls, but for my family, friends and co-workers around me.

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!

Tommy wilkins

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.

james bassetti

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.

tj flowers

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.

michelle Cortez

Michelle is active in the produce industry serving on two TIPA boards, and a national board for United Fresh. Voted top 40 under 40 for Produce Business Magazine in 2018, she has dedicated herself to advocating for Texas and Mexican supplied produce. Outside of work she is involved with Autism Awareness. Once an avid weight trainer, she was injured in 2017, which led to a major weight gain. Over the last year she has been making strides to get down to a healthy

weight. With over 50 lbs. lost Michelle is excited and determined to get back to her peak physical ability.

Ed bertaud

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. 

Current Chronicles: SO fresh and so clean

Our Featured Participants are health warriors. They are busy cutting making healthy changes, prepping food, giving up soda, getting in their steps and learning to make better choices. You won’t want to miss their real-life stories about how it’s going. Tune in to experience their journey through their eyes (and maybe pick up a tip or two along the way!)