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Balancing work and family drives Classic Salads' Danielle Carter

Danielle Carter knows a good mix when she sees one.

The 26-year-old sales assistant at California-based Classic Salads LLC is finding that her job there meshes nicely with her roles as mother to six-year-old Ethan and wife of exactly two years this Valentine's Day to her husband, Nick.

Ms. Carter, who commutes 20 miles and back every day from Salinas, CA, to Classic's Watsonville, CA, cooler, has worked in the industry for about three years.

"I just like the produce business, how it works, how [product] grows," she said.

She began her career in the trade with Gourmet Veg-Paq Inc. in Salinas as a sales associate, then moved for a time to West Coast Distributing Inc.'s California branch as a sales assistant.

"I started learning at Gourmet Veg-Paq with organic and conventional spring mix. I learned all the different leaves, what they're called," she said.

That early training serves Ms. Carter well at Classic Salads, which has an extensive line of the leafy commodities. "We have Asian mix, spinach, arugula, frisees, some baby heads and a variety of spring mixes," she said, noting that Classic packs some products under its own label. "I work with all the different products."

She fills a support role at the company. One of her key responsibilities is to help salespeople and customers with everything from taking and entering orders to tracking the status of a particular shipment or product. She handles other office duties as well, including answering the phones and filling in when co-workers are out.

Ms. Carter is happy with her niche and said that she is looking to stay with Classic in her current role for the long haul. Having tried her hand at sales previously, she decided the pressure was not for her. "It was fun, but I got a little skittish," she laughed. "This way, I get the taste of it without the stress."

Not that there aren't challenges, she said. One of the trickier times was the seasonal transition to the Yuma, AZ, cooler that took place in November. "We had to make sure we had the product there if that was where the customer wanted to pick it up," she noted. In addition to the Watsonville and Yuma coolers, Classic Salads has an office in Salinas, where much of its product is grown.

The hard work has its rewards, Ms. Carter said, practically on a daily basis. "I feel appreciated every day by both the customers and my co-workers," she said.

Age is not a factor, she said. "I'm treated like everybody else, my age doesn't really matter. I'm treated like an equal person here."

A lifelong Salinas resident, Ms. Carter is the first family member to work in the produce trade. Her first job, at age 16, did tie into the food industry, however -- she worked as a cashier at Hometown Buffet, a local restaurant. She finds that the traits she learned to nurture and cultivate there have an application to her current situation. "Being who you are, being honest, being loyal, being polite to the customers - there's pretty much all that [here]," she said.

Her schedule at Classic Salads -- she starts at 6:30 a.m. and is usually home by 3 p.m. -- dovetails nicely with her role as a mom. Kindergartner Ethan's child care when she is not at home is provided -- depending on their varying schedules -- by her husband, mother and sister, with some daycare as well.

Ms. Carter met her husband, Nick, on the Internet. They were together for four years before marrying; her son acted as ring bearer at the wedding. Mr. Carter works in the food industry as a driver for Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream.

In their leisure time, the young family are avid sprint car racing fans and they attend meets regularly. The open- wheel, winged cars run on dirt tracks and are powered by methanol. Mr. Carter sometimes works in the pit crew for a friend who races one of the vehicles.

"It's fun, but the scary thing is they don't have a good roll cage, so [the driver] can get hurt," Ms. Carter said. The Carters also watch NASCAR races "religiously, on Sundays," Ms. Carter said. Ethan will sit and play with his toy NASCAR cars during the broadcasts, she said, noting that her son is "just so into" everything that interests his stepdad. "It's very cute," she said.

The couple also bowls with other family members in a league on a weekly basis. And even though Ethan is a little young to participate, he sometimes comes along and is "starting to get a little into bowling too," Ms. Carter said. In fact, Ethan's last birthday celebration was a bowling party.

Striking the right balance between family and work is greatly augmented by the atmosphere at Classic Salads, Ms. Carter said.

"I love the company I work with," she said. "Everybody is so kind and caring and really appreciative of everything."