Young apple growers prepare for leadership roles

by Richard Lehnert
May 2012

Over the last three years the U.S. Apple Association has identified and trained 35 young apple growers as part of its National Apple Industry Leadership Initiative.

That program started in 2010, when ten young growers became part of the first class. Ten more followed last year, and as spring came this year, 15 more got their introduction to national affairs in the fiery crucible of Capitol Hill Day in Washington, D.C.

Each year, USApple brings about 70 apple industry leaders to the nation's capital for an intense three days of meeting with members of Congress, as well as agency personnel.

"This year we visited 80 congressional offices and talked to members about labor, funding for the Market Access Program and for research, and the outlook for specialty crops in the new farm bill," according to Mark Gedris, USApple's director of membership and communications.

"We took a divide-and-conquer approach. We broke our leaders into groups, state by state, and visited congressional offices. We had our message focused and coordinated."

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee and championed the new specialty crop provisions in the 2008 Farm Bill, spoke for more than 20 minutes about her plans to protect the specialty crops provisions, Gedris said.

The young leader program is annual and ongoing, but there is no overarching program that would bring them all together and keep them together year after year. Each year, young people apply for the program, and leaders in each state evaluate the applications and give final approval. The first event of the year for them is Capitol Hill Day, where they meet other industry leaders in a convention hotel within taxicab reach of Capitol Hill. They sit in on USApple committee meetings, make contacts with their peers and apple industry leaders, and meet people who can serve as mentors for the future.

"It helps them learn how to network," Gedris said.

Class of 2012

Young Apple Leaders of 2012

back row left to right, Sarah Dressell, Sara Shanteau, Casey Collins, Adam Peters, Mark Boyer, Dave Gargasz, Jeff Armock, Mark Stennes, and Andy Ferguson; front row, Holly Rogers-Rios, Stephanie Shoemaker, Valerie Ramsburg, Congressman Bill Huizenga, Daniel Rock, Chris Willett, and Justin Finkler.

The class of 2012 brought in five from Michigan, where Don Armock at Riveridge Produce Marketing sponsored three from his organization, including his son Jeff.

from Michigan:

  • Jeff Armock with Riveridge Produce Marketing, Sparta;
  • Justin Finkler with Riveridge Produce Marketing, Sparta;
  • Daniel Rock with Riveridge Produce Marketing, Sparta;
  • Holly Rogers Rois, Core Farms, Hartford
  • Stephanie Shoemaker, Ed Dunneback & Girls Farm Market, Grand Rapids.

from the state of Washington:

  • Casey Collins, Chelan Fresh Marketing, Chelan
  • Mark Stennes Orchards, Chelan
  • Chris Willett, EnzaFruit Products, Wenatchee.

from Pennsylvania:

  • Mark Boyer, Ridgetop Orchards, Bedford
  • Valerie Ramsburg, Rice Fruit Company, Gardners.

from New York:

  • Sara Dressel, Dressel Farms, New Paltz
  • Adam Peters, Peters LakeAire Orchard, Willaimson.

from Ohio:

  • Dave Gargasz, Rex Gees Orchard, Amherst
  • Sara Shanteau, Moore's Orchards, Oak Harbor.

from Massachusetts:

  • Sean O'Neill, J.P. Sullivan, Ayer

from Wisconsin:

  • Andrew Ferguson, Ferguson's Orchards, Galesville.

Earlier Classes

The first Young Apple Leader Class in 2010 had ten members: Brett Anderson and Roger Umlor from Michigan; Robert Brown and Joseph Porpiglia, New York; Rachel Crane and Josh Koempel, Washington; Casey Darrow, Vermont; Sidney Kuhn and Ben Wenk, Pennsylvania; and Aaron Libby, Maine.

The 2011 class had ten members: from New York: Frank Teeple, Teeple Farms, and Jenny Crist, Crist Bros. Orchards; from Michigan: Damon Glei, Glei's Orchards and Greenhouses, and Eric Roossinck, Roossinck Fruit Storage and Orchards; from Washington: Alan Groff, Foreman Fruit Company, and Ty Edwards, Jack Frost Growers; from Pennsylvania: Ben Keim, Keim's Orchard, and Ellie Hollabaugh Vranich, Hollabaugh Brothers; from Ohio: Zach MacQueen, MacQueen Orchard, and Ben Sage, Sage's Apples.

The 35 are not an organized army, Gedris stressed. They are 35 individuals who have been trained to lead.

When the program was established, USApple President Nancy Foster described the goals:

  • identify and develop future leaders of the apple industry preparing them for involvement in USApple, state associations, and the overall apple industry
  • Help them understand public policy issues and how the systems works
  • Foster fellowship and cooperative working relationships across all the apple-growing regions of the country.

"The program is designed to equip the next generation of American apple growers, and those involved with other aspects of the industry, with an understanding of federal regulatory and legislative apple issues, as well as apple marketing strategies, and to provide an opportunity to learn from peers and apple leaders from around the country," she said.

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Donald Seifrit
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