MEET CLASS 22 OF THE PRODUCE INDUSTRY LEADERSHIP PROGRAM
Katie Birkhauser is a research scientist at Dole Fresh Vegetables. With ten years of experience in botanical, agricultural, and mycological research, as well as production, she thrives on challenges and solving problems through teamwork. Katie holds a bachelor’s degree in botany and ecology with a minor in ecological agriculture from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.
John Carkoski joined The Fresh Group in 2012 to open and manage Maglio Minnesota, a new distribution and repack facility. As operations manager, he is responsible for implementing and executing strategic goals, as well as all daily operations. John joined the United States Marine Corps and served in combat tours to Afghanistan and Iraq earning a Purple Heart. After being honorably discharged at the rank of Sergeant, John finished his bachelor’s degree in business administration.
Kelly Catchot was born into produce, but it wasn’t until June 2010 that Kelly began her career in the industry as an intern with Renaissance Food Group, while attending California State University, Sacramento. Upon graduating in June 2012 with her Bachelor’s degree in Business Marketing, Kelly was officially hired by RFG as a Marketing Coordinator. During her tenure with the Marketing team, she worked to develop a branding strategy that would enhance RFG’s position in the industry. From there, Kelly had an opportunity to become part of the Sales team, which would expand her knowledge and passion within the company and industry. Today, Kelly holds the position of Business Development Manager with RFG, where she manages a key national account, directing and executing objectives for continued growth of the company, while meeting the evolving requests of her customer.
Nick Chappell began working for California Giant since he graduated from college. Today, as the director of sales, he provides strategic leadership for the retail sales channel team in the development of the company’s strategic sales plan. Nick also provides leadership on the daily sales operations, develops new accounts, and recommends training opportunities and visibility for the team while maintaining focus on the company’s strategic goals. He is a recent recipient of the United Fresh Caplan Family Scholarship Program and was recognized last year in Produce Business’s 40 under 40.
Melina Lopez is the senior sourcing manager for the strawberry and berry categories at Walmart Stores, Inc. In this role, she develops sourcing strategies for the berry category at more than 4,000 stores in the United States while creating and maintaining strong grower relationships throughout the country, and international production. Before joining Wal-Mart, Melina began her career in produce at Ready Pac Foods. She has a bachelor’s degree in business management from University of Phoenix.
Adam Lytch grew up on his family’s farm in Southeastern North Carolina and he has always had a strong passion for agriculture. Today, he is the operations manager at L&M, overseeing the company’s farming and warehouse operations in the Southeastern U.S. Adam serves on the board of directors for the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association and has previously served on the boards for the Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association, National Watermelon Association and more.
Brendan Miele is the director of domestic farming operations for Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo, supervising the production of organic culinary herbs, vegetables, and strawberries. He has served on the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau board of directors, contributed on the Farm Food Safety Conservation Network steering committee, and served as an industry contributor on the “Commodity Specific Food Safety Guidelines for the Production, Harvest, Post-Harvest, and Processing Unit Operations of Fresh Culinary Herbs”. Brendan holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies (agroecology) from the University of California Santa Cruz.
Melissa Olsen is the director of national accounts for Freshway Foods where she works with national and regional restaurant chains to understand their operational needs, and to introduce creative produce solutions. Prior to joining Freshway Foods, Melissa held positions with Pro*Act and Produce One. She actively supports organizations that advance opportunities for women in the produce industry. Melissa holds a bachelor’s degree in math education from the University-Wisconsin LaCrosse.
Max Saad is the director of domestic procurement for Mastronardi Produce in Kingsville, Ontario. In this role, he is responsible for planning acreage for sales, allocating seed, sourcing new growers, and maintaining grower relationships. Max’s passion for the produce industry is a result of being around the industry for most of his life. He has been in professionally involved in the produce industry for more than seven years.
LeighAnne Thomsen is the brand marketing manager at Mission Produce in Oxnard, California, where she oversees the company’s trade, consumer and international marketing initiatives. Before moving to California, she lived in Boston and managed business development of Mission’s retail and wholesale customers in the Northeast and Midwest. While pursuing her degree in agricultural business marketing at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, she realized her passion for the industry and participated in the PMA Foundation Career Pathways program. Recently she served as co-chair of PMA Foundation’s Women’s Fresh Perspectives Steering Committee.
Jonathan Vance is a sales executive for 4Earth Farms and is responsible for commodity sales, product development, and national account management. Before joining 4Earth Farms, he was in the luxury hospitality industry where he focused on restaurant development and management. He left the hospitality industry, bringing his diverse customer service and passion for produce to 4Earth Farms. Jon’s goal has always been to help strengthen, build and maintain customer, grower and co-worker relationships, all while upholding highest standards of the industry.
Megan Zweig is vice president of DMA Solutions, where she is dedicated to ensuring that clients’ goals and objectives are met, while supporting consistent business growth and development. She is fiercely loyal to the fresh produce industry and the people who serve it. Her innate ability to nurture relationships and build teams, combined with her strategic thinking and aptitude for finding unique solutions for any problem, make her instrumental to the DMA team. Megan currently serves on the United Fresh Produce Marketing & Merchandising Council and PMA Fresh Summit Exhibitor Advisory Committee, and earned Produce Business’ 40 Under 40 recognition.