“I AM TURNING IN MY NOTICE”
That’s how it started. I gave my notice and prepared to spend the next three months transitioning out of my company and my career.
“I quit my job.” Those four little words are both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. I have worked consistently since I was 13 years old, through high school, college, having a baby and getting my masters degree. I have never “not worked”.
Walking away from my career, a career that I have built over the last 12 years, was not an easy decision. In fact, it was a decision that took me a year to fully process. I was a Director of Sales in the fresh produce industry. My job took me around the world to meet growers, procure fresh citrus and grapes and then sell those commodities to large grocery retailers here in the US. I traveled at least four times a month both internationally and domestically to meet customers, set up contracts or inspect the produce. And I loved my job!
The people in the produce industry are the cream of the crop (pun intended). We deal with farmers and family-owned companies with 3rd and 4th generation employees who have grown up on the land. We have a passion for feeding the world healthy produce. We are a tight-knit family and I have often said that once you get into this industry, you never get out. So handing in my resignation felt that I was divorcing my produce family, even though I didn’t know what my next move would be. It felt like a break-up! A heart-wrenching break-up.
HOW DID I GET HERE?
I had been on the sales side of the business for over a decade. If you’re unfamiliar with sales, there are high risks and high rewards in almost every aspect of what we do. There is also a lot of stress. When I started my career, I was just learning the business and therefore did not have to shoulder the burden of that stress. As my role and responsibilities grew, so did the pressure to perform. And I have to tell you, I thrived on it for awhile. The harder the task, the more determined I was to conquer it. Whether it was a difficult customer or an impossible supply chain obstacle, I was fueled by the need to succeed. I took pride in my work and I was confident in my abilities. I also continued to improve my financial situation with higher salaries and greater bonuses.
For most of my career, I was a single mother raising my son entirely on my own. I was the mom and the dad, the sole provider, and caretaker and the only source of income. That responsibility weighed heavy on my heart as I knew I was not just trying to succeed for my own benefit, but I also had to be successful to keep food on the table and fund things like after-school programs and expensive summer camps. When I married my husband the burden eased as we had two sources of income. But I think that desperation still lives on inside me and probably always will as your parental instinct is always to provide for and protect your children.
When I look back on it now, it is fairly easy to see the reasons that led me to leave my career, but in the moment it was hard to discern if I was doing the right thing or not. While my husband was completely supportive of my decision, my extended family was less convinced. They would ask me questions like “how are you going to leave that salary?” and “you know you’re never going to make that much money again, right?”. To be honest, that was the only point in my decision-making process that made me stop and question what I was doing. After all, the family usually does know what’s best for you right? But I still could not get past the gut feeling that I had to leave. I knew it was time and even though I wasn’t sure what my next move would be, I was resolved with my decision to leave my career and jump into the unknown.
I DECIDED I WANTED SOMETHING MORE.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like my job. The opposite is true, in fact. I LOVED my job. I loved the people I dealt with and the relationships I built in this business. Over the past twelve months though, I started to change. I didn’t know it at the time, but I started having anxiety attacks. I would get a migraine or get physically ill before I was supposed to fly out for a business trip. I was waking up in the middle of the night with terrible chest pain and acid reflux, something I had only had during my pregnancy. All telltale signs of stress and anxiety. And my body was telling me it was not happy. It took me awhile to listen to the signs, but finally, my loving husband said to me very frankly one night, “your job isn’t worth risking your health” and it finally sunk in. I had made the decision it was time to leave my role and try something new, but what?
It is a very uncomfortable and vulnerable position to be in when you are trying to “find yourself” and discover what truly makes you happy. I was in a unique position where I didn’t have to jump right into my next role. Financially, we had figured that I had a year or two to take time and figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I kept saying to friends and family, “I just wish I knew what I want to be when I grow up so I can get to doing it!”. I’d be lying if I told you I was one of those people who has always known what they wanted to do and just finally made the tough decision to go do it. It took me a long time to figure out what I wanted and it wasn’t easy. I battled constantly with the creative side of me wanting to do something that I am passionate about and the business side of me that wanted to keep the title, salary, and position. If I’m being completely honest, I am still balancing on that pendulum today. In the end, I decided to take a leap of faith (and a lot of support from family and friends) and jump off the deep end.
FINDING MY PASSION
I have always had a love and passion for photography. When I was seven I asked for a camera for my birthday. I remember being so excited when I opened the long, rectangular shaped Fisher-Price Kodak 110 camera with one pack of film to go with it. I can’t remember what I took pictures of that year, but the process of getting film developed in our small town still sticks with me. You had to wait for someone to be willing to take you (or your film) to the store to drop off for development. After two weeks went by I would harass someone to take me to pick them up, this usually took an extra week or two. In those days you always wanted to get doubles (in case you wanted to share them with your friends of course) so I would go get the Kodak orange envelope from the local store, eagerly tear open the seal and thumb through my pictures in the car. I was always disappointed when the odd thumb or finger overlapped my photo, or the developing didn’t come out just right and you could actually see two photos in one. I think I still have some of the negatives in a box of memorabilia somewhere.
Early on in my produce career, I dabbled with the idea of becoming a photographer. I was living in Florida so it was easy to find great places to take family portraits outside. I launched a side-hustle for friends and family and really enjoyed taking the pictures but quickly discovered trying to pose people, especially family members, wasn’t as easy as it looks. It also wasn’t satisfying for me personally. So I let that business venture die out and continued to focus on my career. As I was selling fresh produce daily to buyers from grocery retail stores, it was often helpful to have photos of the product to go with the sales pitch. I struggled to find good photos in our day to day business. The fruit was being grown all over the world so it wasn’t exactly easy to go into the field and take pictures of the crop on the tree. We also stored the fruit in various warehouses in the US, so you had to rely on someone in the warehouse to snap a picture on their cell phone under awful fluorescent lighting in order to just get a recent photo.
Eventually, I started taking the fruit home with me and experimenting with my own photography. It was much easier to sell using a picture of a beautiful bag of Clementines on a crisp white background than a picture where the quality control guy had his hand out holding a crumpled up bag over the dark warehouse floor under very poor lighting. I began staging photo shoots at home. I even created a few recipes to accompany the products and go on the company’s social media pages. I realized that I had an eye for food styling that just came naturally to me. Where others were completely impressed (and complimentary) of this skill, I just attributed it to my years of growing up with a mom who can best be described as Martha Stewart, Betty Crocker and Joanna Gaines combined!
MY “AH-HA” MOMENT
After the word got out that I was leaving my company, I was inundated with questions from colleagues and friends, “where are you going next?” and “who are you going to work for now?”. On top of it being juicy gossip in our intimate industry, I think the majority of folks just had a genuine concern and wanted to make sure I was going to be alright. I also received a few offers to go to work for other shippers and competitors. Fortunately, I was still working out my notice period and I had a bit of time to decide what I actually wanted to do. To keep myself busy, I decided to start an Instagram feed for each National Food holiday. Nearly every day of the year is some kind of National Food holiday – you know, “National Pancake Day” or “National eat a slice of an orange day”. I thought it would be a good way for me to practice food styling and keep a daily post to hold me accountable. November kicked off with National Calzone Day on the 1st. For 30 days I posted a picture of the food item that was being promoted that day, from candy to mousse to National French Toast Day.
By December 1st though, I was a little bored of trying to make whatever dish was on the calendar, edit the photos and post them religiously on each day. I loved styling the photo shoot but I just wasn’t that interested in the whole “National ___ day” topic anymore. It took me awhile to put two and two together, but I realized I should combine my experience in fresh produce with my passion for photography and at last, Freshtography, LLC was born!
WHAT IS FRESHTOGRAPHY?
I started conceptualizing the idea for this business with my husband, Will, who is also a fresh produce executive. He knew better than to try to talk me out of one of my crazy ideas – when I get something in my mind, I tend to go ahead full steam. He also fully believed that there was a true need for what I was trying to do in our industry. Produce companies are often marketing themselves to both consumers and buyers simultaneously. Unless you are a large consumer brand name like Sunkist or Green Giant, you typically are offering your “customer”, the buyers at grocery stores, your own brand or even a generic brand of fresh produce. Take Clementines, for example, you can probably name two big (and I mean BIG) consumer brands for Clementines? But there are dozens of other companies that supply the US market with Clementines or easy-peel mandarins year-round and you probably wouldn’t recognize their brands. These companies will sometimes have their own consumer packaging, but most of them tend to sell a lesser known brand of their own or even the growers brand. Buyers often recognize these “brands” based on the supplier and they trust the supplier based on the quality of fruit. Quite honestly, they don’t really care what the packaging says if the fruit eats well and will sell out on their grocery store shelves.
Selling your product, regardless of what it is, is always easier when there is a visual aspect. Brands sell fruit and vegetables every day to consumers with creative packaging and eye-catching graphics. But selling the raw product itself, a head of lettuce or an avocado, is much more difficult without creative, fresh photography. As Will and I were talking one day about names for this business, he sort of spit out the term Freshtography while trying to say fresh photography too quickly. I asked him to repeat what he had said and he quickly corrected himself to say “Fresh Photography”. I said “no, what did you say before that” and so, he said it again, “Freshtography”. I immediately fell in love. Fresh-tography. Fresh Photography. FRESHTOGRAPHY! Yes, that was the name! I went to work designing our logo and brand messaging around Freshtography.
WHAT DO WE DO?
Freshtography’s mission is to heighten our visual awareness to the fresh produce industry while telling provenance stories that lead consumers to our products.
While the name of the business implies we are solely a fresh produce photography company, the heart and soul of what we do is a little bit more. I have a firm belief that our industry, the fresh produce industry, needs to make more of a visual representation to the end-users, the customers. After all, consumers tend to buy produce with their eyes. They look at the fruit or vegetable and decide if they are going to take it home based on how it looks. So why aren’t we using that more often in our sales pitch? Why aren’t we showcasing our commodities through pictures and stories to go along with them? Consumers are increasingly interested in where their fresh produce is coming from and they are thirsty for this knowledge. Let’s give the people what they want with beautiful imagery, a fantastic background or history of the commodity, and attractive marketing. It would be great if every fresh produce brand was recognizable enough to have a Super Bowl ad and a consumer following to match it! But let’s be honest, our industry just isn’t there yet.
But we’re about more than just pictures at Freshtography. Every apple, every stalk of chard, every piece of produce has a story, a provenance to tell! It was cultivated, nourished, cared for with love and ingenuity by farmers, producers, packers and shippers who all have their own stories and history. Our goal is to enable fresh produce suppliers to share beautiful, fresh images, along with amazing, motivating and enlightening stories from the seed to the fork and the plant to the plate. (To find out more about our services, please click on Services in the menu above.)
Building this company from the ground-up has been a work of heart! I have found the spark again, the drive to excel in everything I do because now I am doing what I LOVE. It took me awhile to find this path, but I am rooted in the Latin quote “Omnia Causa Fiunt”, everything happens for a reason. Leaving a career that was financially stable to venture into entrepreneurship was scary, to say the least. But this is the journey I was meant to be on and starting Freshtography is my very own fresh start. I hope you will follow along with me and that we can create a Fresh story together.
Originally published at freshtography.com