Girl Power On The Philly Market

Originally printed in the September 2020 issue of Produce Business.

By Tracie Levin

“Who run the world…GIRLS!” This iconic line from powerhouse female recording artist, Beyonce, rings true in this day and age – more so now than ever, it is very applicable to the produce industry. I grew up with the Spice Girls and their “girl power” mantra back in the early 90s, always being taught that a girl could do anything a boy could do (and in many aspects – even better!). I also grew up going to work with my Dad to the very cold or very hot (depending on the current season) and always dark (during the very early morning hours before the sun rose) Philadelphia Terminal Produce Market.

It was there where I learned firsthand that girls … pretty much didn’t exist in the wholesale produce scene. At the time, there were only one or two women working in the wholesale market on the “front lines” – while there were a handful behind the scenes working the switchboards or in the offices. I may have been just a young girl, but I knew then and there that there was a major lack of “girl power” to be seen.

Fast forward 20 years and a whole lot has changed on the produce front – in the wholesale sector and in the industry as a whole. Women are now owners and front-line-and-center in the wholesale markets, running supermarket chains, as well as commercial growing/shipping operations. While men still far outnumber women in this field, women are now widely accepted and respected across the industry.

The women on the wholesale scene today are a force to be reckoned with (men reading this – you’ve been warned!). These smart, focused, dedicated, and super committed females can be seen and heard in wholesale markets country-wide. Most of them are young, in their 20s, early 30s and 40s and all are super talented multi-taskers. This ability to multi-task and juggle work and all other aspects of life (family, house, you name it) is something that I’ve observed that really stands out from the men in similar positions. Women traditionally ran the house, cooked and cleaned and raised the children, Now women are doing it all on top of running companies.

While men still far outnumber women in this field, women are now widely accepted and respected across the industry.

I joined my family’s fourth-generation wholesale produce business in 2006 after graduating from college, the same year the company celebrated its 100th year in business. Up until this point the past three generations to run the company had been men. I knew I had a lot to prove – something men in the same position don’t have to feel, but I was confident that I had what it took to grow and lead the company into the future. I worked early (and sometimes late into the evening) hours doing everything from sweeping the floors, learning how to ripen bananas, marketing, new business development, food safety, sales and buying, finance and operations management. I wore many hats, and still do to this day, including that of being a wife and a mother of a 2 1/2-year-old and a newborn infant!

With all that being said, I love my hectic, crazy, busy life – my family and my work. Luckily my husband is very understanding, as he also works in the industry (and consequently goes into work at 3am and likes to go to bed by 8pm). People talk about work-life balance being the key to happiness in life. My work-life balance blends into one in the same way the days blend into nights and the days into years. Some days work wins; some days the rest of my life’s daily tasks need to take priority. At the “end” of the day, what matters most to me is that I feel a sense of pride in my work, both as an owner of my family’s 114-year-old produce business and as a wife and mother to my amazing husband and girls (dog included!).

I look forward to seeing the “new normal,” and I wonder if it will involve more days working from home or back in the office. Either way, I know I can handle what comes my way and I challenge all of you out there to also accept things as they are – and realize the best you can do is not just fine – it’s perfect. Ladies, you can do anything you set your minds to – and that means that women can work, have families and continue to run the world (back ‘atcha, Beyonce!).

I look forward to giving my girls the option to go into the family business (should they choose that path) – perhaps they can take it into its 150th year and beyond when I am long gone. One day, maybe they’ll look back and thank me for hopefully instilling into them the same things my Dad instilled into me – that hard work (and some grit!) pays off.

I have an amazingly supportive father as my role-model, in both work and outside of work. I will always cherish my time learning from him as he’s one of the hardest working guys I know (he’s been working in the family business actively for the past four-decades and he’s still going strong!).

My last piece of take-away for this article is this: I’ve learned that women always should have each other’s backs. Use the many talented women in this industry to network, to learn from and to lean on.

Tracie Levin is the controller for her family’s wholesale produce company, M. Levin and Company, Inc. She has been working there for the past 14 years and is involved in all facets of the company’s daily operations.