Originally printed in the October 2020 issue of Produce Business.
When Faulkner received the Nobel Prize in Literature, he began his speech with an explanation: “I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work – a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before.”
There is no Nobel Prize to be won for writing about the produce industry. Sure, we have shelves lined with awards commending the work we have done. This year, though, on the 35th anniversary of the launch of Produce Business magazine, we look back at that first issue distributed at the PMA convention in San Francisco in 1985, and we reflect on the moment.
My great-grandfather, Jacob Prevor, founded the family produce company in America in the Wallabout Market in Brooklyn, NY, and my grandfather, Harry Prevor, made the big move to the Washington Street Market in Manhattan. Then my father, Michael Prevor, along with his brothers, William Prevor and Sydney Prevor, built an important produce company headquartered on Hunts Point, exporting and importing produce around the world.
Produce was, at that time, an industry with only newspapers, and we thought there was value in going beyond news, so we launched the industry’s first magazine, with the intent to move the trade from being reactive to news into building companies and business with robust tools in marketing, merchandising, management and procurement. Whereas industry media had grown out of the production side of the business, we saw that what unified the trade, what tied a Maine potato producer and a Hawaiian pineapple grower, was that they both sold to the same customers. So we oriented our content toward the buying end of the industry, knowing that this created a unity of the entire trade.
Yet there was something more. I could have worked many places, done many things, but I believed that there was a grandeur in this industry. That from the fields of rural counties, to midnight on the terminal markets, to the steam-filled kitchens of restaurants and onto the produce section of supermarkets, there was a majesty of human spirit getting the job done.
“I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help a man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”— William Faulkner’s speech at the Nobel Banquet at the City Hall in Stockholm, December 10, 1950
We launched Produce Business magazine with three goals: We wanted to help industry members do their jobs better; we wanted to be engaged — (“Initiate Industry Improvement” as our slogan detailed); and we also wanted to elevate the industry, to capture the grandeur of people committed to bringing the fruit of the earth to the people of the world.
We must have accomplished something, because it became commonplace for when something needed to be said, we got a phone call, often from the most luminous of the industry, and the first few words were always the same: “Jim, I can’t talk about this publicly, but the industry needs to understand something…” and so we listened…and we wrote.
The ride has been a wild one, but looking back 35 years we can say that we had our share of success. A simple magazine launched back in 1985 led to multiple magazines covering fields such as deli and cheese and flowers. We were pioneers in the digital age, launching websites such as PerishablePundit.com and PerishableNews.com, and launching events such as The New York, London and Amsterdam Produce Shows and Conferences. We ran executive share groups and gave, over the years, more than 1,000 workshops, speeches and presentations – from South Africa to China, from the UK to Australia, we’ve spoken on every continent save Antarctica.
Now, with live events halted, we have experienced something new. After 34 years of growth, sales will drop significantly before the year is out. But we will not despair. We’ve launched a new podcast and video cast. We’ve begun doing webinars and virtual events. We’ve reinvigorated our consulting operation to help companies advance in uncertain times.
The future is always uncertain, but it is not something imposed on us. The future is is something we are a part of creating. After these past three-and-a-half decades, that message surely rings true.
Whatever the future brings, I’ve been fortunate to continue in the path laid down by my family. I worked from the beginning with my extraordinary friend, Ken Whitacre, and wherever I have traveled, in good times and bad, I’ve been lucky to be embraced by good friends in the produce industry across the country and around the world.
What can one say when every place one visits, one gets pulled aside and an industry leader, sometimes one we’ve never met, says: “I just want you to know that your work is unique, that I am a fan, and that you made a difference.”
The times are dark, the future uncertain, but there will be a tomorrow, and I promise to do all I can to make it shine brightly for the industry I love.