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Jessica Peri determined to continue family's onion-growing tradition

One day several years ago, as she and her father sat talking, Jessica Peri posed a question.

"I asked him what he was going to do when he retired," Ms. Peri recounted. "And he said he'd probably sell the company. It scared me -- I didn't want that to happen."

At the time, she was a sophomore at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, majoring in marketing. And with deep-rooted family pride, loyalty and determination factoring into her career decision, Jessica knew without a doubt the third-generation onion farm, Peri & Sons in Yerington, NV, was where she wanted to be.

"All my projects during my junior and senior year were focused on Peri & Sons," she said. "I worked to familiarize myself with the business -- but there's nothing quite like stepping into the job."

She graduated with a bachelor of science degree in marketing in December 2004 and took on a sales and marketing position at the farm in January 2005. "It was baptism by fire," Ms. Peri said. Today she's at the helm of the company's marketing department and works sales with Pat Hansen, comfortable in both roles.

"I sell a good product," she said recently. "And I want to create good relationships with my customers."

Still, no job is without its challenges, and Ms. Peri said she works hard on day-to-day matters, "following the market and just being in tune with what's going on in the industry."

But when asked if her age, 24, and her gender pose any disadvantages, she was quick to answer: "I've had very little difficulty. In fact, I think it has been an advantage being a young woman and coming into [a sales position]. I don't have the same things to offer, and I don't talk about sports. But I am very straightforward, and I think my customers like that in me."

"Straightforward" is certainly one accurate adjective pertaining to Jessica. Another would have to be "driven."

The daughter of second-generation onion farmer David Peri and his wife, Pamela, Jessica is one of four siblings in the family. Her older sisters, Ami and Angie, were 10 and 8, respectively, when she was born. Her younger brother, D.J., is now 12.

Jessica graduated from high school in Reno and attended the University of Nevada in her hometown for one year before transferring to the Las Vegas campus. Throughout her college years, she worked in a number of administrative positions, including conference scheduling and account reconciliation at UNR and assisting the financial advisor at UNLV.

"I worked to show my employers they could give me responsibilities and I would follow through," she said.

"I do better when there is more pressure. I'm an intense person, and I can get a lot done when I have a lot on my plate."

That plate has seldom been anything but full.

She's a team player, no doubt, although she also has an independent side. During her senior year in college, she spent five months traveling alone in Europe.

"I went to San Sebastian, Basque country in Spain," she said. "You learn a lot about yourself when you travel alone."

Spanish, which she studied while in Europe, makes up part of her "one and one-half" languages today.

"I did very well in a country where I had to speak Spanish, but I need some brushing up," she said.

She also visited the French-Italian region of southern France and northern Italy, from where a group of her forebears departed in the early 20th century. Family history has it that brothers Constantino, Sabatino and Bruno Peri left Monte Catini, Italy, in 1902, looking for a better life. Like most European immigrants, they came through New York City, but they soon moved west, traveling by train to Reno.

Initially the brothers worked in Dayton, NV, for the Virginia City mines, draining water from the tunnels. Ten years later they returned to Italy to marry three sisters, Narcisa, Eda and Rosa Mosconi.

After the weddings, the couples settled back in Dayton and leased a 50-acre farm on which they grew vegetables to sell in Carson City and Virginia City. In 1918, Constantino and Sabatino bought a ranch in Lockwood, NV. The 170 acres with water rights was purchased for $14,000 at that time, and the ranch continues today, with first-generation Americans, Peri twin brothers Joseph and James, still actively farming at age 82.

Peri & Sons, the 1,800-acre Yerington, NV-based onion operation, was started in 1979 by David Peri and his cousin, Butch. A buyout this year has David Peri and his family in ownership now.

That Jessica Peri, the third generation, is attached to her family's business through pure lineage is evident, but her dedication to the enterprise is also part and parcel of her general ambitious nature.

From fall through spring, she markets and sells white, yellow and red onions, informing buyers of the company's comprehensive food safetyprogram and Nutri-Clean certification through Scientific Certification Systems.

She also focuses on promotions for the new "Sweetie Sweet" label and variety as well as the farm's expanding organic line.

Not that Jessica is all work and no play, because there are varied interests outside of work.

"I like to ski, and in the summertime I love riding mountain bikes, hiking and riding my horse," she said, adding that the mountains and open land around Yerington provide great riding escapes for her and sister Ami. "I also like to read, but no one particular style."

But she admitted, "From September to May I'm pretty much here. And I absolutely love working. I think there are lots of wonderful places Peri & Sons can go, and taking this active marketing approach is a first for us."

Jessica said she sees herself in more of a managerial position in five years. "I want to be putting together the large deals and maybe more focused on marketing. And of course I want to focus on new relationships and strengthen our existing ones," she said.

She credits her parents with Peri & Sons success, noting, "My father has put together a really good team, and that's the company's heartbeat. It's like one big family here."

And today, some five years after that deciding conversation with her father, the heartbeat of Peri & Sons shows no sign of slowing. What's more, Jessica said her father will likely never retire.

But it's obvious she's grateful for the impetus to bring her into the company, and the closeness she has with her parents has only deepened.

Jessica enjoys making personal sales calls across the country, and often she and her father travel together.

"I like to schedule business and pleasure," she said,. "And when I go with my dad, I try to schedule something eventful."

Given her approach to life, that "something" is certain to be straightforward fun, and it's also bound to be, to quote Jessica Peri, "intense."