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Healds Valley's James Watson returns to the produce fold

Sometimes, the produce gene skips a generation.

James Watson, a sales representative with Healds Valley Farms in Edinburg, TX, grew up around agriculture and is descended from ranching and farming families. But in fact, neither parent is in the trade.

"They were the first city slickers of the bunch," joked the 23-year-old Mr. Watson, who was raised in Edinburg. His mother is a schoolteacher, and his father is an auctioneer.

Still, agriculture exerted a strong influence in his formative years, and "it just progressed to something that's become a large part of my life," he said.

Mr. Watson graduated from Texas A&M University in December 2004 with a degree in agricultural systems management. He joined Healds Valley, where he described his duties as "keeping relations with customers and filling orders on their behalf," about six months ago. The job with the Texas citrus grower-shipper is his first in the produce industry.

He was first attracted to pursuing a livelihood in the trade when, at the close of his college career, he was introduced to the industry by a family friend. "I really enjoyed the people I met and decided to pursue it more seriously," he said, adding that the timing coincided with the realization all graduating students come to: that the real world is knocking on their post-academic doors.

Mr. Watson's first job was working as a veterinarian's assistant while he was still a teenager, and for a while he entertained thoughts of becoming a vet himself. But he decided that agriculture was a better fit.

"There are definitely some challenging days, being in such a fast-paced industry," he said of his chosen career path. "There are days when it seems like you can't answer the phone fast enough or get caught up on enough work. But at the end of the day, we can all feel good knowing we've done something that is definitely a good service."

Age has so far proven to be not much of a factor in his dealings with Healds Valley customers. "It hasn't had a strong bearing because of the amount of phone conversations - that's the way we deal with most of our customers," he said. Even for those buyers who come to Healds Valley personally, Mr. Watson's youth has not been an issue. "Things just haven't been focused on that," he said. "I've never experienced any negative feedback because of my age."

As for leisure activities, "Oh, is there time for that?" he joked.

"I definitely enjoy spending time with friends, and I have had the opportunity to get in some of that in the off-season when the industry is not so bustling."

One of his favorite spots to chill out is Padre Island, a barrier island on the Gulf of Mexico, about an hour's drive from Edinburg. The destination offers miles of beaches as well as the chance to jet ski and to listen to live music. And when he's not chilling, Mr. Watson is grilling. For the past four years, he has been a member of a professional barbecue cookoff team.

"It is definitely a lot of fun and a good excuse to have a large party," Mr. Watson said of the cook-off events, which usually encompass an entire weekend. His team consists of about 15 people at any given time, both men and women.

"A friend invited me one weekend and I enjoyed helping him out and ended up joining the team," Mr. Watson recalled.

He noted the correlation between working on the team and his job with Healds Valley Farms, citing the similar dynamic "in any activity that involves working with people."

As for incorporating Texas citrus into some of his team's recipes, "I don't know," Mr. Watson laughed. "Maybe someday."

Meanwhile, he is settling into his niche at Healds Valley.

"I have definitely run across an exceptional group in finding co-workers who are patient with me throughout learning a new business and who are more than willing to share their experience and their knowledge," he said. "And we also manage to maybe laugh once or twice throughout the day."