[EDITOR’S NOTE — A few months ago, Casey Ison walked away from a produce career that had made her well-known throughout the industry. Since then, everybody who knows her — and that’s a lot of folks — has asked the same question: Why? Casey explains it all right here.]
“I quit my job.” Those four little words are both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. I have worked consistently since I was 13 years old, through high school, college, having a baby and getting my master’s degree. I have never “not worked”.
Walking away from my career, a career I have built over the last 12 years, was not an easy decision. In fact, it was a decision that took me a year to fully process. I was a Director of Sales in the fresh produce industry. My job took me around the world to meet growers, procure fresh citrus and grapes and then sell those commodities to large grocery retailers here in the U.S. I traveled each month both internationally and domestically to meet customers, set up contracts or inspect the produce. And I loved my job!
The people in the produce industry are the cream of the crop (pun intended). We deal with farmers and family-owned companies with 3rd and 4th generation employees who have grown up on the land. We have a passion for feeding the world healthy produce. We are a tight-knit family and I have often said that once you get into this industry, you never get out. So, handing in my resignation felt that I was divorcing my produce family, even though I didn’t know what my next move would be. It felt like a break-up! A heart-wrenching break-up.
HOW DID I GET HERE?
It wasn’t that I didn’t like my job. The opposite is true, in fact. I LOVED my job. I loved the people I dealt with and the relationships I built in this business.
Over the past 12 months though, I started to change. I didn’t know it at the time, but I started having anxiety attacks. I would get a migraine or get physically ill before I was supposed to fly out for a business trip. I was waking up in the middle of the night with terrible chest pain and heart burn. All telltale signs of stress and anxiety.
It took me awhile to listen to the signs, but finally, my loving husband said to me very frankly one night, “Your job isn’t worth risking your health” and it finally sunk in. I had made the decision it was time to leave my role and try something new.
It is a very uncomfortable and vulnerable position to be in when you are trying to “find yourself” and discover what truly makes you happy. I was in a unique position where I didn’t have to jump right into my next role. I’d be lying if I told you I was one of those people who has always known what they wanted to do and just finally made the tough decision to go do it.
It took me a long time to figure out what I wanted and it wasn’t easy. I battled constantly with the creative side of me wanting to do something that I am passionate about and the business side of me that wanted to keep the title, salary, and position. If I’m being completely honest, I am still balancing on that pendulum today. In the end, I decided to take a leap of faith (with a lot of support from family and friends) and jump off the deep end.
FINDING MY PASSION
I have always had a love and passion for photography. When I was seven I asked for a camera for my birthday. I remember being so excited when I opened the long, rectangular shaped Fisher-Price Kodak 110 camera with one pack of film to go with it. I can’t remember what I took pictures of that year, but I loved that camera.
While I was selling produce, it was often helpful to have photos of the product to go with the sales pitch. I struggled to find good photos in our day to day business. The fruit was being grown all over the world, so it wasn’t easy to go into the field and take pictures of the crop on the tree. We stored the fruit in various warehouses in the U.S., so I had to rely on someone in the warehouse to snap a picture on their cell phone under awful fluorescent lighting in order to just get a recent photo.
Eventually, I started taking the fruit home with me and experimenting with my own photography. It was much easier to sell using a picture of a beautiful bag of Clementines on a crisp white background than a picture where the QC guy had his hand out holding a crumpled up bag over the dark warehouse floor under very poor lighting.
I began staging photo shoots at home. I even created a few recipes to accompany the products and go on the company’s social media pages. I realized that I had an eye for food styling that just came naturally to me. Where others were completely impressed (and complimentary) of this skill, I just attributed it to my years of growing up with a mom who can best be described as Martha Stewart, Betty Crocker and Joanna Gaines combined.
MY “AH-HA” MOMENT
After the word got out that I was leaving my company, I was inundated with questions from colleagues and friends: “Where are you going next?” and “Who are you going to work for now?”
On top of it being juicy gossip in our intimate industry, I think the majority of folks just had a genuine concern and wanted to make sure I was going to be alright. I also received a few offers to go to work for other shippers and competitors. Fortunately, I was still working out my notice period and I had a bit of time to decide what I actually wanted to do.
It took me awhile to put two and two together, but I realized I should combine my experience in fresh produce with my passion for photography and at last, Freshtography, LLC was born! Fresh-tography. Fresh Photography. FRESHTOGRAPHY! Yes, that was the name! I went to work designing our logo and brand messaging around Freshtography.
EVERY APPLE HAS A STORY…
Freshtography’s mission is to heighten visual awareness to the fresh produce industry while telling provenance stories that lead consumers to our products. We want fresh produce to be a visceral, emotional reaction to the consumer that reminds them why they are buying our fruit and vegetables.
While the name of the business implies we are solely a fresh produce photography company, the heart and soul of what we do is a little bit more. I have a firm belief that our industry needs to make more of a visual representation to the end-users, the customers. After all, consumers buy produce with their eyes. They look at the fruit or vegetable and decide if they are going to take it home based on how it looks.
So why aren’t we using that more often in our sales pitch? Why aren’t we showcasing our commodities through pictures and stories to go along with them? Consumers are increasingly interested in where their fresh produce is coming from and they are thirsty for this knowledge.
Every apple, every stalk of chard, every piece of produce has a story, a provenance to tell. It was cultivated, nourished, cared for with love and ingenuity by farmers, producers, packers and shippers who all have their own stories and history. Our goal is to enable fresh produce suppliers to share beautiful, fresh images, along with amazing and enlightening stories from the seed to the fork and the plant to the plate.
Building this company from the ground-up has been a work of heart. I have found the spark again, the drive to excel in everything I do because now I am doing what I LOVE. It took me awhile to find this path, but I am rooted in the Latin quote “Omnia Causa Fiunt“: Everything happens for a reason.
Leaving a career that was financially stable to venture into entrepreneurship was scary, to say the least. But this is the journey I was meant to be on and starting Freshtography is my very own fresh start. I hope you will follow along with me and that we can create a Fresh story together.