John Chapman (Sept. 26, 1774 – March 11, 1845), an American legend known widely as Johnny Appleseed because of his work as a pioneer nurseryman, introduced apple trees to large parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois and counties in present day West Virginia. He is sighted as having been kind, generous and strong in conservation leadership.
While “Mr. Appleseed” apparently never got his apple seeds in the ground in New York, there is someone at the apple helm there today — Jim Allen — who sounds a lot like him.
Mr. Allen is the president of the New York Apple Association, and the mark he is leaving on the apple industry in the United States, not just in New York, is a tribute that his colleagues are happy to offer, and one that he deserves to hear.
Brian Nicholson is the chair of the NYAA, and president and chief executive officer of Red Jacket Orchards in Geneva, NY. He told The Produce News that he has worked with Mr. Allen for as long as he has been in the industry — well over a decade.
“I have served on the board of the NYAA for about five years, and so have had many opportunities to work closely with Jim,” said Mr. Nicholson. “One thing I really admire is that he is a guttural marketer. He gets it so deep in his soul as to how to market apples. He is Mr. New York Apple personified.”
Mr. Nicholson added that Mr. Allen always puts 110 percent into everything he does for not just the association, but for the entire American apple industry.
“Jim has led the industry in many new directions during his time as president, including overseeing government regulations,” he added. “He is omnipresent in that he seizes every opportunity possible for New York apples, whether it’s in a booth at the PMA Fresh Summit or on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. And what really impresses me is that he does it all really well. He is simply a really good guy.”
Agriculture is in Mr. Allen’s DNA. He grew up on a vegetable farm in New York, and started his career with the New York Department of Inspections, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“I was a raw products inspector for a short period,” said Mr. Allen. “When a sauerkraut company ordered a load of cabbage, for example, I inspected it.”
Mr. Allen graduated from Morrisville State University in Morrisville, NY, in 1972 with a degree in food science. He then went to work for Comstock Foods.
“I bought apples, sour cherries and peaches, and Comstock made pie fillings,” he said. “I really got into fresh fruit in 1980 for Keystone Fruit Marketing Co. in Greencastle, PA. For about 13 years I learned every aspect of fruit marketing in the fresh fruit industry.”
He moved back to New York about nine years later, but continued to work for Comstock until about 1996.
“Mike Durando, president of NYAA at the time, offered me a job as retail promotional director,” said Mr. Allen. “I accepted. When Mike retired in 2000 I was appointed president.”
Matthew D’Arrigo, vice president of D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of New York Inc., located at the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Cooperative Market, said that it looks like New York apple growers will be out of the woods with a good crop this year, following one of the worst years it has had in a long time.
“That’s really good news,” said Mr. D’Arrigo. “Jim does a great job. He is a friend of our company and has been a friend of our market for decades. And he knows a lot more about the produce industry than just apples. He is a tireless worker on behalf of the industry.”
Mr. D’Arrigo added that Mr. Allen is someone who others can always count on.
“If you need something; a favor, an introduction or anything else that he is capable of helping you with, you can always count on Jim,” he said.
Mr. Allen is not quick to accept any grander, however. He said that what has been most rewarding to him in his career is the opportunity to work closely with so many other outstanding people.
“United, the entire U.S. apple industry has so much strength,” he said. “It is imperative to continue working together in the future. By working closely together we can do even better than when we stand alone.”
Mr. Allen gives credit for his knowledge and drive to a couple of mentors in addition to his father, Stuart.
“Bill Huehn was head of procurement for Comstock,” said Mr. Allen. “He is as straight as an arrow. He was one of the most ethical men I’ve ever known, and he taught me to never bend the rules.”
Mr. Huehn is now retired and lives in Winchester, VA.
Bob Evans, one of the founders of Keystone Fruit Sales is another mentor who Mr. Allen holds in high regard.
“Bob is soft spoken, service minded and never pushy,” said Mr. Allen. “He taught me that should never be aware that you are selling a product, but instead to sell yourself and your ideas.”