A couple of years ago, 27-year-old Megan Shanley was happily working away at Driscoll Strawberry Associates as a category development specialist at the company’s category management office in Olathe, KS.
She is a good example of why it is a good idea to leave some flexibility in your plans for the future. While her career in agriculture got a great kickoff by means of her education, she had no idea that she would today be the director of sales and marketing for the company that her father, Jim Shanley,founded and farmed, Shanley Farms in Visalia, CA. The company is handling several products, but it is primary item is the finger lime, which it produces in Morro Bay, CA.
“My college education began at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, California,” Ms. Shanley told The Produce News. “I participated in an exchange student program for one semester at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, but I loved it there so much that I decided to finish my education there.”
In 2008 she earned her bachelor’s degree in applied economics and management, and then she returned to California.
“I took a job with Driscoll’s in Watsonville as a sales coordinator and was there in 2008 and 2009,” she said. “But then a job opened up at Driscoll’s category development office in Olathe. It offered me more opportunity, and so I accepted and relocated.” Her title was category development specialist.
During this time, however, there was something else in the works back in California that would soon have her aimed down a different path.
“During his career, my dad was a commodity trader and he managed a commodity trading business,” she said.“During that time he decided to buy some ranches to work when he retired. As it turned out, he was able to retire in his late 40s and moved to his ranch at Morro Bay.”
Mr. Shanley first saw the long, thin limes in 2004 at a variety collection expo held at the Lincove Research Station in Lincove, CA. He was amazed that, when cut open, the finger limes oozed tiny little pearl drops of juice that have a combination of lemon, lime and grapefruit flavors.
“He asked how soon he could buy the trees, and six years later he was producing commercial volumes of the fruit,” said Ms. Shanley. “I was then working at Driscoll’s in Kansas. Dad would often call me asking for my advice on how to promote and market the lime crop. I would say to him, ‘Dad, you can’t be calling me at work all the time.’”
Finally, a little frustrated, she said to him, “Why don’t you hire me and I’ll introduce the limes to the industry for you?”
He did, and Ms. Shanley gave her two-weeks’ notice to Driscoll’s, “which made me feel kind of sad because I really liked the people and the company,” she said.
Nonetheless, two weeks later a moving van backed up to her apartment and she was on her way back to Morro Bay. She started promoting the limes at the Santa Monica Farmers Market on Wednesdays, noting that it is a unique market in that only farmers, no concessions, are permitted.
“Market managers actually came to our farm to make sure we were growing the limes and not sourcing them,” she said. “One day during the first month we were at the market I found myself standing in front of celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, explaining what a finger lime is. A camera crew was following him around and there I was on camera with him.”
By the end of the second season with commercial volumes, Ms. Shanley had saturated Southern California with the limes. She knew it was time to take it to the next level. In 2011 she created a press kit, and with it in hand she searched out the contact information for editors of national food magazines and sent them the materials. She included a cover letter that said that if they would like samples of the limes, to please call her.
“Within six months the limes were featured in Food Network magazine, Bon Appetit and Saveur,” said Ms. Shanley. “We are now working with a food stylist for photos, reaching out to foodservice operators and exhibiting at trade shows. We will be exhibiting at the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City, and PMA’s Fresh Summit in New Orleans. We learned last year — our first year at retail — that people are very interested in finger limes, but they’re not sure how to use them. Before we introduced finger limes to the retail trade, the majority of the fruit was sent to foodservice and export markets. In addition to foodservice operators, we are also reaching out to select retailers nationwide who are looking to differentiate their produce department with specialty produce.
If that’s not a full enough plate for a young career-minded business woman, fate took another turn in May 2012. She reconnected with an old high school friend’s older brother. Ms. Shanley and Justin Warren became engaged March 10.
“We both grew up in Visalia, and his younger sister and I were friends,” said Ms. Shanley. “I thought he was a real hunk, but I didn’t think that he would ever be interested in me because he was older.”
She was wrong. In May 2012 she was driving onto the freeway and at the same time he was driving off of it. They passed each other and had fleeting eye-to-eye contact. Enhancing this fateful encounter was that they were both living in San Louis Obispo, two-and-a-half hours away from where they grew up. Mr. Warren hunted down her phone number and called her.
“By our third date we were talking about getting married,” said Ms. Shanley. “We were both tired of the dating scene, and everything seemed too fateful. We haven’t set a date yet, but we plan to be married next spring.”
The relationship and soon-to-be marriage is making both sets of parents very happy. They all love their in-laws, and they share the sentiment that grandchildren could not come soon enough. Mr. Warren’s family recently retired nearby, and so the couple is able to see both sets of parents often.
In what spare time the couple has, they are discovering their mutual pastime loves.
“We enjoy country music concerts and visiting wineries,” said Ms. Shanley. “We recently bought a small RV, and now we are camping all over the place, having barbeques, taking bike rides or cruising down the beach, which is just three minutes away. We really love hanging out with our newly introduced camping neighbors.”
She feels extremely fortunate to have been taken down the unexpected path to where she is today.
“I am also very fortunate in that when Justin and I do have children, I’ll be able to have a nursery in my office — or, vice-versa — my office in the nursery,” she added.