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WASHINGTON -- The United Fresh Produce Association announced April 28 the 12 new candidates selected to take part in the 2009-10 United Fresh Produce Industry Leadership Program.

A yearlong program that teaches leadership skills to future industry leaders, the Produce Industry Leadership Program will welcome the following professionals to its 15th class:

Andrew Bivens of Westlake Produce Co. in Los Angeles; John Cameron of Desert Glory Ltd. in Arlington, TX; Allen Davis of Dole Fresh Vegetables Inc. in Monterey, CA; Tracie Levin of M. Levin & Co. Inc. in Philadelphia; Phil Gruszka of Grimmway Enterprises in Bakersfield, CA; Jason Hollinger of Earth Source Trading Inc. in Ephrata, PA; Mike Laws of Frontera Fresh Logistics in Naples, FL; Neil Merritt of Ready Pac Foods Inc. in Irwindale, CA; Greg Mixon of SunnyRidge Farm Inc. in Winter Haven, FL; Andrew Pandol of Pandol Brothers Inc. in Delano, CA; Bryan Roberts of Save-A-Lot in Earth City, MO; and Nichole Towell, of Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc. in Oviedo, FL.

During the upcoming program year, the class members will participate in a number of educational events and outings centered on the four core focus areas of the program: leadership development; business relationships; government and public affairs; and media and public communications.

The class also will take part in customized field and facility tours, train with expert educators and meet with key industry leaders and innovators. The program begins in June with the first trip to Central and Northern California, followed by trips to Washington, DC; Wilmington, DE; Culiacan, Mexico; and Las Vegas, NV, for the 2010 United convention.

"We'd like to extend our congratulations to the new class, and thank all of the candidates who applied for this year's program," Mike Martin of Rio Queen Citrus, advisory committee chairman, United Fresh board member and leadership class 6 alumnus, said in a United statement. "Narrowing the field down to 12 applicants was an extremely difficult task, as the committee had to consider a wide range of factors to ensure a well-balanced class. We are proud of the 12 industry members selected for this year's class and are confident that this program will help them develop into powerful and influential leaders that will guide our industry forward."

Presented through the United Fresh Research & Education Foundation and sponsored by a generous grant from DuPont Crop Protection, this year's class marks the 15th year of the Produce Industry Leadership Program. Since its inception in 1995, the program has graduated more than 160 program participants.

"Our leadership program offers each class the opportunity to grow personally and professionally, expanding and improving on their industry knowledge and experience," Victoria Backer, United Fresh senior vice president of member services, said in the statement. "The cooperation and generous support of DuPont Crop Protection allows us to continue this valuable investment in the future of our industry."

To be considered for the program, candidates must submit an application including two essays detailing why they would like to participate and what they consider the most important challenges affecting the produce industry. The applications are reviewed by an advisory committee comprised of United board members and leadership program alumni. Through the selection process, the committee is responsible for assessing each candidate based on their experience and expertise, as well as developing a class that is balanced and representative of the industry.