Women's Fresh Perspectives Conference Wraps Successful 2024 Event; Carrie Mack, Julie DeJarnatt, and More Share

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Tue. April 9th, 2024 - by Jordan Okumura-Wright

ORLANDO, FL - You don’t know what you don’t know. This life lesson is one that I continue to learn over and over again, and it is this challenge that propelled me to the threshold of this year’s International Fresh Produce Association’s (IFPA) Women’s Fresh Perspectives Conference (WFPC). With an open mind and the numerous life changes, joys, and hurdles of recent years, I arrived feeling hopeful and determined to connect with peers and fill my cup with wisdom. And, may I say, my cup runneth over. The 220 women who came together for the three-day event brought with them a range of experiences and roles from across the supply- and buy-side with a common goal: connection and empowerment.

Cathy Burns, Chief Executive Officer, International Fresh Produce Association
Cathy Burns, Chief Executive Officer, International Fresh Produce Association

“The Women’s Fresh Perspectives Conference continues to build a strong community of female leaders, and this year’s program was no exception,” shared Cathy Burns, Chief Executive Officer, International Fresh Produce Association. “We’ve made great progress in creating a forum for women to learn, connect, and develop. Meaningful implementation of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives will make our community even stronger, and it will be encouraging to see how we leverage allyship to create opportunities for others. A HUGE thank you to all our program participants, sponsors, and the IFPA team for creating another incredible and memorable experience for our members and industry. Our future is bright!”

From April 7–9, women met women where they were, mirroring and addressing their unique circumstances, mindsets, and more.

Tracy Spears, Founder of the Exceptional Leaders Lab, held a celebratory kick-off of the Conference on Sunday with a presentation from her Oxford Talk, “Curating Your Own Personal Eco-System.” The conversation ranged from how we preserve and protect our resources to deepening connections. The talk created a great entry point for attendees to dig in and enter a place of discovery—one that persisted throughout the event.

Earlier this week, 220 women gathered for this year's sold-out Women's Fresh Perspective Conference hosted by IFPA

Later that afternoon, the WFPC Welcome Reception at Waldorf’s Signature Island brought attendees together to further break the ice and dissolve the distances that separated us. The group talked and connected over tasty cuisine and cocktails to refuel and reenergize guests as the sun set over Orlando, Florida.

With a fresh start to Monday and a networking breakfast under our belts, attendees launched into sessions and robust workshop blocks designed around some of the major themes and priorities of women in the beginning, middle, and height of their careers. Allyship, diversity, inclusion, belonging, mentorship, advocating for yourself and for others—these were just a handful of topics that session leaders dove deeply into.

This special event created a forum for women to learn, connect, and develop

I deeply appreciated how curated the discussions felt and the level of intention invested in each activity. Thinking about how today’s priorities and solutions can be addressed is one thing, but creating actionable items as the conference did, facilitated learning in real-time that attendees were enthusiastic to put into practice.

Dr. Bertice Berry, Author

I found myself in deep reflection several times during the event, inspired by the conversations and sessions with author, sociologist, and storyteller Dr. Bertice Berry. She sent shockwaves, laughter, tears, and joy throughout the rooms she occupied. I left with a notebook filled with writing I could barely read; paraphrased insights like…

I can only advocate for others as well as I can advocate for myself…
Common sense is common, critical thinking is not…
How do we evolve? Through diversity—new ideas, perspectives, environment, etc…
You don’t have to fit in where you belong…
I am because we are…

These paragraphs here do not even scratch the surface of the conference’s value. But I hope they will give you a brief look at what has come to pass and the depth we can expect next year.

The third day of the show did not wind down in energy or action. Instead, the day brought the conference full circle, highlighting the group’s incredible value with workshop themes ranging from emotional intelligence to AI and the future of such technological advancements.

But, enough from me! Please, take a moment to hear from some of the attendees and how the conference filled their cups as well.

Carrie Mack, Senior Sourcing Manager, Walmart

Carrie Mack, Senior Sourcing Manager, Walmart
Carrie Mack, Senior Sourcing Manager, Walmart

"As WFPC24 came to a close, I found my heart full. I experienced friendships being created, familiar faces reconnecting, and the message of women lifting up women resonating throughout the conference. Sisterhood is strong within our industry. Lean in, and don't be afraid to ask for that meeting. Make that connection. For me, personally, feeling empowered and surrounded by sisters, I was able to be vulnerable, share personal experiences, and, most importantly, ditch some really heavy emotional baggage."

Julie DeJarnatt, Director of Retail Strategy, Chelan Fresh

Julie DeJarnatt, Director of Retail Strategy, Chelan Fresh
Julie DeJarnatt, Director of Retail Strategy, Chelan Fresh

"My biggest takeaway was from Dr. Bertice Berry, who encouraged us to clean our filters and stop letting our past experiences define who we are today. In her words, ‘Who you used to be done died. Who are you now?’ This was so transformational for me as I enter a new season of life: the Empty Nest. I am re-evaluating my goals and aspirations with a clean slate and a breath of fresh air. I also loved Henna Pryor changing our perspective from work/life balance to work/life harmony. That small terminology shift is powerful. And I met some amazing, diverse, authentic women who were brave in sharing their stories and patient in hearing mine."

Alex Jackson, Vice President of Sales and Procurement, Frieda's Branded Produce

Alex Jackson, Vice President of Sales and Procurement, Frieda's Branded Produce
Alex Jackson, Vice President of Sales and Procurement, Frieda's Branded Produce

“This year’s conference was transformational. IFPA successfully empowered 220 women in produce with different life experiences to go on and empower others. We have arrived in this female-dominated industry, and I know every single woman is going to return to their companies and demonstrate allyship, advocate for themselves, and tell the healthcare story of our industry.”

Catherine Gipe-Stewart, Director of Marketing Superfresh Growers®

Catherine Gipe-Stewart, Marketing Director, Superfresh Growers®
Catherine Gipe-Stewart, Director of Marketing, Superfresh Growers®

“One of the action items that I am taking from the WFP Conference is from speaker Tracy Spears. She encouraged us to ‘stop telling our busy story.’ When asked how we are, we say ‘busy.’ This creates a barrier for the receiver, internalizing that you are too busy for them. I recently had my own mother tell me that she didn’t ask for my help because I am too busy. What career opportunities or family opportunities have I been missing out on by not being open for something new? I plan on changing my narrative and not just using ‘busy’ as an excuse for my actions. I will articulate what I am doing and how I am feeling more clearly.”

Emily Murracas, Director of Marketing, Mucci Farms

Emily Murracas, Director of Marketing, Mucci Farms
Emily Murracas, Director of Marketing, Mucci Farms

“The WFPC is always one of my favorite events! To be surrounded by such amazing and powerful women allows for such an empowering and positive experience. I loved all the connections and networking I was able to engage in. One of my key takeaways was a profound quote shared: ‘Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.’ This really resonated with me and calls for some actions on my part. We had a larger team presence this year, and I appreciate our company choosing to invest in us and support our participation. Thank you, IFPA team and committee members.”

The energy of the show was magnetic, only made more memorable by an eclipse that brought us all into the midday sun to witness an impressive event all on its own.

From conversations about emotional intelligence and AI to experiencing the solar eclipse together, WFPC is an inclusive environment for women to evolve and bond

As I sat in front of my laptop back in California, I hesitated to complete this article. There was too much to say and too little space to do it. With that thought in mind, we plan to bring you the reflections from more of our peers who attended the event as we continue to keep the magic of the conference alive, one advocate at a time.

A huge thank you to the IFPA team and to the brave and courageous attendees who shared their stories, wisdom, and experiences at this year’s Women’s Fresh Perspectives Conference.