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Next stop for produce man: the Marines

Nathan Farray appears to be a man on a mission. And that characterization is not just a metaphor.

The California native has deep roots in the wholesale produce business, and he plans to make it a career. In fact, he has focused on that goal for the past several years. However, he also feels the need to serve his country, and soon will be taking a hiatus from his produce industry job on the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market to become a member of the U.S. Marine Corps.

"Why am I doing it?" he asked rhetorically. "To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, he once said a man can go through his whole life not knowing if he made a difference. A Marine doesn't have that problem."

Mr. Farray was born and raised in the San Francisco area, the son of a produce man. "I guess it started with my great-grandfather who came over here from Syria many, many years ago and had a store in the East Bay. My grandfather (Joseph Farray) and grand-uncles had a produce house in South City (South San Francisco) called Supreme. That was eventually left to my uncles and my father. I remember growing up in a produce environment and going down to the market when I was five or six years old."

Supreme eventually closed its doors, but Nathan's father, Scott Faray, continued in the business and today works at Twin Peaks Distributing Inc. on the same Golden Gate Produce Terminal in South San Francisco.

Nathan Farray graduated from high school in 2005 and headed to Texas to continue his education. "I went to SMU [Southern Methodist University] because I wanted to get away from the area and see something different," he said.

In college, the young Mr. Farray majored in English and contemplated his career choices. "It was after my sophomore year that I decided that the produce industry would make a good career. That year my dad set me up with a customer of his -- What a Tomato (on the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market) -- and said Rusty [Tarpley] and Bob [Pizza] were two great guys to learn the business from."

Nathan Farray worked that summer on the market and fell in love with the business. "I found it to be a lot of fun. There is a lot of room for growth, and it's a recession-resistant industry. I thought it was a great career choice."

After graduating from SMU in 2009, he came to work full time for What a Tomato and has been there for the past 18 months. Currently he works on the dock and is certified as a forklift driver. "My dad told me the best way to learn the produce industry is from the bottom up -- and that's what I am doing."

But along the line, he also felt the urge to serve his country, so earlier this year he signed his "Oath of Enlistment" with the Marine Corps on a delayed entry basis. "I ship out from the processing center in San Jose on February 7," he said in late December. "Basically I have five more weeks."

Mr. Farray is excited to be joining the Marine Corps, but he also admitted a little apprehension. "I'm both excited and nervous," he said. "I joined because I want the challenge. I want to take my game to the next level."

Mr. Farray is joining the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, which means about six months of basic training and then a commitment of one weekend per month and two weeks per year for the next six years. And of course, there is always a chance that he will be called into active duty during that period. "If I am called to serve [on a full-time basis], I am fully prepared to fulfill my commitment," he stated.

He decided to join the Reserves rather than active duty because he did not want to give up completely his produce career. "They say it is impossible for a man to serve two masters, but I hope to do just that over the next several years."

When he returns from basic training in the fall, Mr. Farray expects to move up to the next level in his produce career. "My next goal is to become a salesman," he said. "I am ready to take that step. It may be at What a Tomato, or it may be somewhere else. I'll have to see what opportunities there are when I return. I'll see what Rusty and Bob have available, and I have also been talking to a couple of other produce firms. Never burn your bridges is my motto."

The goal-oriented Nathan Farray also has set his sights on advancement in the Marine Corps. "I have a steady girl friend of three years, and I've told her we will get married when I earn my full stripes. That should be in about two to three years," he concluded. "At that point, I'll have a red stripe coming down my pant leg in my dress blues, and it means I will have reached the rank of corporal. Then we can get married."