Jerry Wagner, director of sales and marketing at Farmer's Best International LLC in Nogales, AZ, retired Friday, Aug. 9, on his 56th birthday, after 27 seasons with the company and a produce career that goes back to his school days.
"I started working for my dad, who was a broker, after school while I was in high school," Wagner told The Produce News. He continued working for his father's company, Wagner Distributing, while in college.
At age 21, "I realized that I wanted to work for the farmer rather than be a buyer," he said. So he went to work for Western Food Sales and worked with that company for five years. "Then I went to work for a grower out of Culiacan ... and sold his crop for four years" through San Luis Produce.
In 1987, Wagner joined the Farmer's Best team. The owners, the Tarriba family of Culiacan Sinaloa, Mexico, had been farming in Mexico since the 1960s and had just opened their own distributorship in Nogales in 1986.
Working for the Tarriba family was "a real pleasure," Wagner said. They are "some of the finest people I've ever met."... I can't stress enough what fine people the Tarribas are."
Leonardo Tarriba, general manager of Farmer's Best, told The Produce News that the Farmer's Best story is "a story of success, and I think Jerry is a big part of it." Wagner started with the company almost at its inception, "and it has been nothing but growth and success" since then.
Wagner's demeanor has always been "a display of honor, how to work, and discipline," Tarriba said. "I think that is a big reason for his success and our success."
Many people in the company, including "me personally ... learned a lot from Jerry," he said.
Wagner "let us know about his [planned] retirement a little longer than a year ago," Tarriba said. For the past five years, Steve Yubetta, now vice president of sales, "has been taking over a lot of marketing director duties, and a year ago, when Jerry let us know [that he was leaving], we expedited the process, so we have had a nice smooth transition."
Additionally, "we hired Steve Spence and Sasha Lewton" on sales. Mario Cardenas is also on the sales team, and "we are in the process of hiring" another team member, Tarriba said.
Wagner has served on the board of directors of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, formerly the West Mexico Distributors Association. He has also served on the Produce for Better Health Foundation board.
"I have tried to help out the industry when I could, where I could," he said.
"Jerry has been a very active member" of the FPAA, said Allison Moore, director of legislative and regulatory affairs for the organization. Besides being a board member for several years, he was involved with the tomato division and also the mango division.
Wagner has also been "a source of information and mentoring for a lot of people in the industry. He has been very good at helping this association move forward for the benefit of the whole industry," Moore said.
Asked about his plans in retirement, Wagner said, "My wife and I are going to spend some time together." He and his wife also plan to spend time with grandkids.
"We bought a small ranch outside of town in Santa Cruz County," he said. It is not a working ranch, but just a place to enjoy. Also, beginning in 2014, "we're going to do some traveling."