Teri Miller of Fresh Market became the first female Chairman of the Board in the history of the Southeast Produce Council when she took over the reins at Southern Innovations 2016. Now Faye Westfall of DiMare Fresh will become the second when she takes the post this weekend at Southern Innovations 2017 in Hilton Head, SC.
SPW caught up with both earlier this week for some reflection and looking forward:
SOUTHEAST PRODUCE WEEKLY — Teri, What was your year in the chair like and how do you feel about moving on?
TERI MILLER — What’s most impactful to me is that this represents coming off the Council. It is somewhat like graduating from high school or college — I will miss my dear friends and the great things that we all have done. My year as Chair was vastly gratifying. As always, [SEPC Executive Director] David [Sherrod] and his team do ALL the HARD work and make the rest of us look exceptional. I am awestruck with the accomplishments of this organization.
SPW — Faye — ready for this? What are you excited about?
FAYE WESTFALL — I have a tough act to follow but, I am as ready as I will ever be. The position in itself is exciting. I want to continue to assist with the path the council is already on, and hopefully have something to offer to improve in some way.
SPW — Everyone who has ever held this office has told me that priority number one is managing the growth of the Council. Everybody wants in, everybody wants to exhibit at Southern Exposure, yet care must be taken not to diminish value to members.
MILLER — Growth in membership and growth in the number of booths should never be a measurement of success. I prefer to measure our growth as an impact on the industry and those impacted by it
WESTFALL — With all the ideas we keep implementing, the ideas that we continue to come up with, it’s amazing and I feel that’s behind the success of future growth as well. The Board of Directors has done a great job in trying to maintain our intimate-feeling expo while growing. It has not been an easy task to balance. But the bottom line is we continue to be the premier produce resource that is based on trust, integrity and passion.
SPW — SEPC has become such a powerful organization with the ability to do so much good. There have been some remarkable programs launched. What are your favorites?
MILLER — Of course the women’s networking organization Southern Roots, the Step-Upp leadership program, but to say one over the other feels like a mother picking her favorite child.
WESTFALL — I am very proud of our outreach programs. Of course the Step-Upp program! As well as Southern Roots…obviously Teri and I both are very fond of both of these programs.
SPW — The role of women in the industry has changed dramatically during your careers, thanks in large part to people like yourselves. Tell us about that from your perspective.
MILLER — My career has spanned several different industries – government, manufacturing and retail. I never saw a difference between men and women … however, I do see it in the produce industry. The vast majority shows no difference between the sexes but when it does show, it shows in a very disheartening way. When I do see it, I clearly voice my concern with the situation. For me that is the best way to handle it … it doesn’t always correct it, but it’s out there and no one can say they weren’t aware.
WESTFALL — I think that programs like Southern Roots have been phenomenal in changing the landscape and will continue to do so. Other similar women’s programs pale in comparison.
SPW — Emerging young female leaders tell me they don’t see impediments in their way. They are also very quick to give credit for that to a generation of women who came before them. Were you aware that you were changing things — or were you just trying to get a job done?
MILLER — For me, I’m just getting it done. I think it is important for produce women to build relationships with other produce women. The reason for this is that most times, there are few women at the table. While there are great men in the industry who are great supportors of produce women, our experiences are much different than men. That is why Southern Roots was created.
WESTFALL — I must admit, I have been doing this all my life and in the beginning it was just getting a job done, albeit one I enjoyed. But, somewhere along the way I realized I was helping to “pave a path” so to speak, for the younger generation. And glad to be a part of that!
SPW — Teri, what are you most proud of during your tenure with the Council?
MILLER — The creation of Southern Roots. There are so many things to be proud of but I personally remember the wholehearted support provided by [late founder and director] Terry Voorhees. I was concerned that the council would not have an interest in the program but Terry V was the first one to say YES! passionately. I could talk hours about Southern Roots but I will keep it short.
SPW — Fay, what is your number one objective as Chairman?
WESTFALL — Education, Education, Education! And helping the Council continue to be #1 in the produce industry!
SPW — SEPC already does so much for so many — what else might be on the horizon?
WESTFALL— That’s the best part! The horizon is wide open and SEPC is the one to come up with something exciting I am sure! Our Board of Directors is by far the most innovative group in the industry.