November, 2005

Special Note

Winds Of Change

There are miracles of many sorts in life, and if you are reading this article, then you are participating in one of a minor type. Hurricane Wilma hit our offices, headquartered in Boca Raton, FL, just as we were working on our PMA issue.

The hurricane was anticipated to be a relatively mild one, dying down as it blew across the state, and so the precautions people took were minor. Buildings that are always shuttered when hurricanes approach, such as our office complex, were not shuttered for this one. People who live in evacuation zones, as my family and I do, are always being evacuated, but this time were not told to evacuate. Well, as you probably have heard, the Hurricane hit our area as a Category 3 and caused substantial damage.

Fortunately, nobody we know was killed as a direct result of the hurricane. But that is partly luck. A house that I am renovating had its front door, windows and casings blown 30 feet into the living room. Anyone standing there when that gust came through would have died instantly.

We have no electric, no phones and no water. Gasoline is running very scarce. I write this from a hotel room at Disney World, the only room I could snag. The last time I was at Disney World was with the Nuccis. It seems like I can never really enjoy this place.

I had to stand in line to get a generator and fuel before heading down to our offices to get this issue out and to the PMA convention. Doing so will require heroic actions by our staff and suppliers, countless behind-the-scenes people who never get the glory — but do an awful lot of the work. I’m not sure how you ever really show proper appreciation.

By the way, I blame myself for our lack of preparation. I see people on television complaining about FEMA and the state and the failure to provide emergency food and water. But people have to take responsibility for themselves. You elect to live in a hurricane zone; it is not unreasonable to expect that you will keep enough canned and dry food and bottled water to live a week without the government giving you food. It would be nice if the government could find ways to make perishables, especially milk for the babies, available but unless someone’s house was made uninhabitable, this need for government aid is inappropriate.

Of course, government encourages the problem by allowing the true cost of living in an area to be obscured by government-run insurance programs. This is true on the Federal level with things like the flood insurance program and true on the state level with things like mandatory insurance pools. By obscuring the cost of the premiums one would pay a private insurance company for living in a high-risk zone, the government encourages excessive development and thus population in areas where it shouldn’t occur. This magnifies emergency situations dramatically as we now have to help a million people living in condos on the coast instead of a few fishermen and farmers.

We just celebrated our 20th anniversary; Produce Business was launched October 19, 1985, at the PMA convention in San Francisco. We’ve achieved a lot professionally in those 20 years and built a successful magazine and a broader company. We did it in a way I can be proud of because we did it basically by building a reputation for helping to improve the industry.

I remember, as a young man, sitting at that first PMA and absorbing every word. I knew a lot for my age, having had the advantage of the best education the produce industry could provide, dinner at the Prevor household every night of my life. Still, I wanted to know so much more. I respected so very much the workshop participants, both because they knew so much and because they were willing to share that knowledge.

I give a lot of speeches now, and I have been flown to almost every continent, countless countries and all but a tiny handful of states. I’ve spoken before General Sessions with thousands of people and done one-on-one consultations with produce directors. I’ve been invited to give a workshop this year at PMA, and although I’ve spoken at PMA before, I will feel a special sort of pride this time since 20 years later, I’ll be up where those I looked up to 20 years ago were situated.

Teaching is a lot of what we do here at Produce Business, and in 20 years, it has been rewarding to find how much this teaching has been valued over time. I’ve come to realize that teaching is really at the very core of human existence. What makes us extraordinary as a species is that, as the saying goes, we stand on the shoulders of giants. So even the dullest person around today has access to things that even the smartest person a generation ago couldn’t access.

And much teaching goes on unintended. My oldest son, William, just turned four. When we had to evacuate after the hurricane we were sitting around the hotel room and he asked if I had to work: “Daddy’s work all the time. Big boys go to school and play. Babies just play,” he explained. When did he learn that? I don’t remember ever teaching that. Except maybe I teach it every day without noticing.

At first I felt a little sadness — I don’t want him to think of his father as a workaholic. Then I thought better of it. With all the crazy influences on children today, maybe it is not the worst thing for him to think that when he grows up he has the responsibility to work hard.

The winds of change blow through our lives. We’ve been battered by a storm but your reading of these words is reassurance we made it through. I guess that is the paradigm for life: problem, solution, problem, solution.

I don’t know if we will make it this time and I don’t know what will happen if we don’t. I may be writing words that no one will ever see. So this may just be for me. I suppose I feel a little bit of my Jewish heritage right now. My mother always said that the Jewish people emphasize education and learning because you can carry that in your head. Though you can lose material possessions, you can’t lose who you are and what you know.

Maybe we’ve earned enough chips in life that things will work out and your reading this is the triumphant end to a pretty harrowing week. I hope so and I believe so, because as anyone who has ever had a business can attest, entrepreneurial activity is only for the optimistic sort. But whatever happens, I have my wife, my children, my friends, co-workers and family and the triumphant spirit of the human soul.

The past is merely the prologue to a future we will write, and this transplant will steal a line from a southern native: we shall not merely endure, we shall prevail.  pb