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Mary Wallace Teague keeps it fresh at IFPA

Mary Wallace Teague's trips to the grocery store have changed a little since she joined the International Fresh- cut Produce Association in Alexandria, VA, as its manager of membership services in October.

"I spend way more time in the produce section," she said.

Already a big fruit and vegetable eater, Ms. Teague now takes a more specific interest in what IFPA's members are selling and how they are packaging their products as well as keeping an eye out for potential new members for the organization.

Ms. Teague, who is just turning 23, is a 2005 graduate of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC, with a degree in analytical finance.

Having grown up in Raleigh, NC, where her parents and an older brother still live, she planned on moving after college to the Washington, DC, area and looked into opportunities around the nation's capital.

"I wanted to work for a small company and do something people-oriented & so I got connected and it was a good fit," she said.

The small IFPA office -- there are six staffers on-site -- engenders the type of personal, people-to-people service Ms. Teague said that she is eager to offer. "I field questions from the members and help them," she said. "I am constantly on the phone doing different things and talking to different people, which I like."

Most recently, Ms. Teague has been working on membership renewals and preparing for the association's Fresh-Cut Expo 2006, which will be held April 26-29 at the Baltimore Convention Center. "I've been helping members with registration, and we've really been trying to get our European members to come to the show," she said.

Additionally, Ms. Teague prepared a presentation for the IFPA board of directors on the organization's 323 members, which proved to be a valuable learning experience. "About 40 of them are individuals -- consultants, government and education or research [entities] -- and the rest are all companies," she said. "About half are in the United States and the rest are from around the world."

The Fresh-Cut Expo will be Ms. Teague's first big trade show. "I would love to have anybody come and meet me" at the IFPA booth just inside the entrance to the expo floor, she said. "It will be my first time meeting a lot of people in the industry."

Ms. Teague said that she hopes to join members for tours of production facilities in the Washington and Baltimore areas that have been slated during the expo. "I haven't been to a processing plant, so I want to go on some of the tours Thursday and Friday to see for myself," she said.

In the future, she hopes to travel for the association to meet even more members, whether at other trade events or on their home turf. "I've met a lot of our board members and done a lot of talking on the phone. The different sizes of all the companies involved" in the fresh-cut industry are interesting, she said.

Noting that the IFPA position is not only her first job in the produce industry but also marks her entry full time into the professional world, Ms. Teague acknowledged that her role can sometimes be challenging. "It can be intimidating calling the presidents and chief executive officers of some of these companies." Once she makes the connection, however, people are responsive and helpful, she said.

On the flip side, her youth energizes her, and "I'm eager to learn," she said.

She gets lots of input from the association staff in the Alexandria office. "When I first got here, there wasn't any set training -- they just gave me a lot to read and I kind of jumped in, fielding questions," Ms. Teague said. "Most of the other people here have been here a while [and] they were very helpful."

Ms. Teague worked summer jobs throughout her college years, including waitressing, a stint in an accounting office and as an assistant at an art gallery in New York City's Chelsea neighborhood.

"Waitressing is very service-oriented and the other things were fairly detail-oriented and the art gallery was definitely people-oriented," she said.

Another character-building experience was a two-week service trip to Russia the summer after her junior year in college. As one of a group of Wake Forest University students, she worked as part of a construction crew to renovate a wing of an orphanage located just outside Moscow.

"It was very sad. A lot of the children had been classified as mentally challenged or sick, and they were not," Ms. Teague said. "We spent a lot of evenings playing with [the 10- to 15-year-olds] and they definitely picked up English faster than we picked up Russian."

The Wake Forest group worked on renovations during the day, but had time -- and a translator -- for sightseeing during the northern European summer evenings, when daylight lasted until about 10 p.m.

Outside work, Ms. Teague still keeps in close touch with her college friends, and attended the university's homecoming weekend this past fall. She enjoys travel and described a post-Hurricane Katrina trip to New Orleans to visit friends.

"It was a very interesting trip," she said. "Some parts are perfectly fine and other parts are still completely devastated."

As for future trips, California is high on her list. Ms. Teague, who grew up playing soccer, is part of a co-ed team that is just starting its season. "We're going to be playing right on the Washington Mall," she said.

In the meantime, the freshest face at IFPA is setting new goals and looking forward to the show in Baltimore.