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Southeast Produce CouncilTeri Miller is a produce industry pioneer, and was long before she became the first female president of the Southeast Produce Council last fall.

She has been a trailblazer for women in produce, now working with Fresh Market after 28 years with Food Lion. Miller has sat on the SEPC Board of Directors for seven years, held every office in the organization, and was on the founding committee of Southern Roots, an SEPC program that works to provide support, education and mentorship for women working in the produce industry.

We caught up with Miller for a look at the SEPC Southern Exposure tradeshow and expo at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort March 8-11.

SOUTHEAST PRODUCE WEEKLY So we’re back to Orlando this year, this time at Disney — does that add anything special to the proceedings?

TERI MILLER  Of course it does, what person has not been touched by Disney and all of its wonder?!  For the SEPC, it brings everyone together in a beautiful location right in the heart of our key marketing area, the Southeast.  What comes to mind is magic, wonder, amazement — which is what this year’s theme is all about, “The Magic of Produce”!

SPW This is your first Southern Exposure as president. You’ve worked your way up through every office so I know you were well prepared, but have there been any surprises, good or bad?

TERI MILLER No surprises. [Executive Director] David Sherrod and his team do most of the heavy lifting … they don’t get near the credit that they should.  I’m so honored to have this role.  When I first joined the SEPC Board, I never once thought that it would lead to this position.  I feel so blessed to work with such a wonderful group of people, there’s no one better to work with than those in the produce industry, and I am especially partial to those who are part of SEPC.

SPW Every president I’ve known, and there have been many, has said the first challenge of the office is to manage growth and maintain value for members. It’s especially important to strike a balance between demand for booth space at Southern Exposure and managed growth. I would assume that’s still a top priority?

TERI MILLER It absolutely is. We continue working hard as a board to provide the best experience and value for our members, not only at Southern Exposure, but at all of our events. Collectively we’ve decided that in order to continue providing the best networking and education at Southern Exposure, the booth count for the Expo will stay at 283 moving forward. The goal is to not necessarily grow in numbers, but to focus on having our members active and engaged in what we’re doing as a council. The measurement of our growth is based on the quality of our programming to make it a valuable experience for all attendees.

SPW What are the other key elements of the job that require the most attention?

TERI MILLER Listening to and consideration of the board, the membership, and most importantly David and his team. We must continue to address the needs of our industry and we can’t do that in a vacuum.  All the other presidents before me set a great precedent for that behavior – John Shuman, Andrew Scott, and Mark Daniels. They have each been great mentors to me.

SPW As the first woman SEPC president, are there any special challenges/opportunities you deal with or is it pretty much “business as usual” at this point?

TERI MILLER The challenges of being a woman in produce are different than that of being the first woman SEPC President – this organization doesn’t see differences, we are all one collectively entity working together to make the council and the industry as a whole the best it can be. I’d like to think I’m setting an example for other women in the industry and I’m able to do that with the help of a wonderful support system within the SEPC that I know I can depend on. We may not always agree, but the underlying goal of everyone associated with this organization is to do what’s best for the membership.

SPW People like yourself have been trailblazers for women in the produce industry. Are you aware of your contributions at that level? I know a lot of young women in the industry who take it for granted they will be able to advance and grow like anyone else and that is thanks to the efforts of people like you.

TERI MILLER Thank you!  I have been blessed by wonderful mentors, friends and support.  This industry has allowed me so many opportunities that to not take advantage would be wrong.  To clarify, people are generous in their support but individuals — men and women — have to take advantage of those generosities and make their own place — it will not be given to them.

SPW What will be the biggest challenges for SEPC over the next 6 months of your tenure?

TERI MILLER  To stay the leader in the industry and to stay relevant.  There are many challenges in our industry that can be addressed.  But with the SEPC Board dynamics and David Sherrod’s leadership I am confident that the success of the SEPC will continue to strengthen.

SPW Anybody you want to give a shout out to who has been especially helpful in your career or as you’ve taken over the reins of SEPC leadership?

TERI MILLER Past Presidents John Shuman, Andrew Scott and Mark Daniels – each of them were generous with their advice and friendship. Shelia Carden, she made me feel welcome from the beginning – she and I are kindred spirits. The Southern Roots Committee – Sabrina Pokomandy, Stephanie Hilton, Nicole Hulstein, Laura Hearn, Kelly Dietz, a group of women who I adore, each with different perspectives and not afraid to share. And David Sherrod – so many emotions come to my mind and heart when I think of David. He is entertaining, he is caring, he is extremely knowledgeable about the industry — product and people — and he has heart. He is my dear friend. But most of all he is a fantastic dancer …..hahah!

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