MEET A VOLUNTEER:  Rick Harris, Senior director of Category management, amerifresh

Rick Harris on coaching young professionals

Rick Harris says he came into the fresh produce and floral industry in a pretty typical way: He grew up in an agricultural area, California’s Imperial Valley, and studied agriculture at Texas A & M University. He started out in sales at Del Monte, worked in produce packaging, and has been at AmeriFresh for about 11 years where he’s currently Senior Director of Category Management. In a way, he was born into the business. Produce was a natural, even inevitable career path.  

And that, Rick says, is kind of a problem. These days, fewer farming families mean fewer young people who grew up in the industry. “If we as an industry rely on finding new talent the old way—growing up around it—then we’re in trouble.”   

That’s why he supports and volunteers his time with Center for Growing Talent. Rick is part of CGT’s Fundraising Committee and an active and passionate Career Ambassador as part of Career Pathways. That initiative brings top university students to industry events, where they connect with leaders, attend educational workshops and tours and discover their potential careers in the industry. Career Pathways connects these talented students to talent hungry companies.  

Rick has been a Career Ambassador for nearly 10 years, and he raves about the experience. “I’m so enthusiastic about it because this program makes it easy to give your time. This is the future of our industry! And CGT is so organized that it’s really seamless.  

“It’s amazing to talk with a student that first night at the welcome reception,” he continues. “You learn about them and prepare them for what they’re about to experience. You watch their eyes open during the event, and you follow up at the end and find out what they learned. Almost every time, they say, ‘I’d never even heard about this industry let alone considered it as a career option and now I’m pretty sure that’s what I want to do.’ To hear that and know that we’ve just made a difference is amazing.”  

Rick is eager to bring new talent into an industry that he’s known and appreciated for his whole career. “What’s kept me in the business is the opportunity that exists—even though we feed the entire country and beyond, we are a very small and tight-knit community. We understand each other, we have the same challenges, we live and die by weather and markets, we have a common bond.   

“It’s really a lifestyle,” he continues. “I half jokingly and half seriously warn the young people I talk to that if they stay with it for a year or two, they’re pretty much stuck with it because they’ll love it and never want to do anything else.”