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EVS suits world traveler Emily Donohue

Emily Donohue grew up in Salinas, CA, so agriculture and produce have always been strong influences on her life.

The 25-year-old marketing manager at European Vegetable Specialties Farms has worked for three years at the Salinas-based grower where her dad, Dennis Donohue, is president of the company.

"My whole family is from Salinas," she said of her background. "My mom's side of the family is in farming; my dad's side is in the business end." Ms. Donohue started with EVS in sales. "Now I'm sales and marketing," she said.

In sales, she focuses on domestic customers of the company's radicchio, frisee, Romaine hearts and other products. On the marketing side, "I work on project managing and food shows - all the fun stuff," she said.

Ms. Donohue's marketing responsibilities have increased since her father won his election bid for mayor of Salinas in November. "He used to handle more of that," she said.

One of Ms. Donohue's recent projects has been the retail band program for EVS. The bands come in eight versions and include a full-color recipe photo on the outside and a recipe on the inside.

Another favorite promotion is her company's involvement in A Taste of the Valley, an annual Salinas food show. "It's one of the most fun shows," Ms. Donohue said. "We had some pretty interesting chefs, some interesting wine labels this year."

She also enjoys attending PMA's annual Fresh Summit and staffed a booth for EVS at the 2006 convention and trade show in San Diego. "I plan to go to Houston next year," she said. When PMA stages its annual foodservice show in Monterey, CA, Ms. Donohue will be there, entertaining clients with dinners and outings. "I try to get people to go to the [Monterey Bay] aquarium," she laughed.

Ms. Donohue graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee with a bachelor of science degree in business administration in 2003.

She described EVS as a small family business begun when a couple of Italian farmers teamed up with a pair of Salinas Valley growers in the late 1980s. Today, the company is one of the larger growers of radicchio in the world. "Everyone here is interconnected," she said of both EVS and the valley.

For example, some of her early working experiences involved babysitting for other growers' families, and she did some filing for EVS while still in middle school. Throughout high school, she worked on her grandparents' farm in Salinas. "I worked in the fields and drove the water truck," she said. "I even attempted to move pipe [for irrigation] until I got too sunburned and too brawny."

Like many who were raised in an agricultural environment, Ms. Donohue has a deep appreciation for those early experiences, especially as they relate to her current career path. "I think you understand the field of work, all the inputs," she said. "When you see it in the ground, you can follow it through the pipeline. It's kind of interesting -- it helps you understand. Even at the grocery store -- I'm a consumer too."

She reinforces her trade experience with membership in the Jaycees and the Young Farmers & Ranchers group.

Her youth has certain advantages, she noted, among them the ability to adapt quickly to an environment that is always changing. "There's always a new problem being thrown at you," she said.

She did want to dispel one preconception about young people in the produce -- or any -- industry however. "Being young, people always ask you for computer help," she laughed. "But we're not all programmers."

Other tasks are easier to accomplish despite their difficulty, she said. "Every customer now has its own set of criteria and its own food-safety plan. It can be really difficult as a small vendor to constantly stay abreast and have what each customer needs. It's not impossible by any means, but it's just that you have to tailor every program accordingly."

One of the more rewarding aspects of her job is working with her dad, Ms. Donohue said. "Because he's been in the industry for so long, I can kind of glean stuff off him, but I'm independent enough too."

Mr. Donohue's experience includes about 10 years at EVS. Before that he worked for growers Fresh Express and Albert Fisher.

"It's fun to hash out things at the kitchen table with him," she said. Another strong influence is the independent family farm run by her grandparents in Salinas. "I spent a lot of time there," she said. "It's where my respect for agriculture and the independent farmer came from."

Ms. Donohue, who lives in Salinas, maintains close relationships with her grandparents, her mother, Paula, and "baby brother" Allen, 22, a college student in Los Angeles.

Her ties with her grandmother, Ruth Johnson, are particularly close. The pair has been traveling the world together since Ms. Donohue was 10 years old. It started with a trip to New York City, Ms. Donohue said. Their most recent trip was to Egypt to indulge a lifelong interest of Ms. Donohue's in the country and its history.

"We've done a lot of Europe - Italy, France, Switzerland. We've maybe been to 20-plus countries."

Ms. Donohue, who spent a year studying at Oxford University in England, has ranged as far as Australia and New Zealand in her travels. When she was 13, she traveled with a student group to China, Japan and Hong Kong.

"I spent St. Patrick's Day 2001 in Ireland at the parade in Dublin and at the Guinness brewery," she said.

What makes Ms. Donohue and her "nana" such good traveling partners is their shared love of history and curiosity about the world. "It broadens your perspective," she said. "We've talked about Greece and maybe Eastern Europe for this coming year; we're also talking about Alaska. Those are two pretty different trips, I know."

Her grandmother isn't the only one to share her travels. Ms. Donohue is an animal buff and pet owner.

"I have a goofy lab named Gunnar and my cat, Cortez, is pretty funny," she said. Adopted during her college years, Cortez traveled back and forth to Wisconsin with her and spent a lot of time on the road and "in a different hotel every night," hence the name. "I called him the explorer," she said. She also writes a monthly opinion piece for The Californian, a Salinas area newspaper. "Last month I wrote about how Salinas is full of healthy people because we eat all our vegetables," she said.