Leitica Velazquez wins Caplan Scholarship
Leticia Velazquez, The FruitGuys Midwest Operations Manager, was one of four people chosen for the prestigious Frieda Rapoport Caplan Family Business Scholarship Program for 2021. The program provides scholarships for representatives from family businesses to participate in the United Fresh Washington Conference (held Sept. 20-22, 2021) which brings participants to the nation’s capital to learn from and engage with congressional leaders, administration officials, and industry colleagues.
The scholarship program was launched in 2001 by Karen Caplan and Jackie Caplan Wiggins of Frieda’s, Inc., on behalf of their mother, produce industry pioneer Dr. Frieda Rapoport Caplan, to bring more family-owned business members to the United Fresh Produce Association’s annual public policy conference in Washington D.C.
“It was a great experience!” said Leticia upon returning to Chicago, where she heads up The FruitGuys Midwest operations, including buying great produce in the region, meeting with clients, and training and mentoring other fruit folk. “I felt very proud and empowered! It’s hard to believe that my dad was picking grapes in Clovis, CA in the 1960s, and now his daughter is meeting with members of congress to discuss concerns that affect our produce industry in America in 2021.”
Leticia was hired seven years ago by The FruitGuys as operations manager in Chicago. She learned about the United Fresh Produce Association while working here. “We all get the emails from United Fresh. Most times we may just hit delete,” she said. “However, if you take the time to read them you will learn about a lot of the opportunities that are available to us for free as members through FruitGuys. We all qualify for free Webinars, seminars, leadership courses and the ability to apply to the Frieda Caplan Scholarship.”
Leticia reported that the conference had 3 keynote speakers. “First, Seth Turner, the director of citizen engagement, gave us the tools on how to speak to congress people, reminding us that they are caring individuals that want to hear our story. Second, Cedric Richmond Sr., White House advisor and director of public office engagement, reminded us how important it is to have a seat at the table. He said, “If you are not at the table you are on the menu!” (Your Fruit gal was sitting at the honoree table.) He stressed how important all of our jobs are to keeping healthy food on the table and explained the importance of families coming together to share a meal daily and share their stories with each other. Third, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), she spoke about the need for immigration reform and the impacts of climate change on the produce industry.”
Leticia also met with Congressman Rodney Davis (R-Illinois) & Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and shared the points that she had hit upon after discussing public policy issues with FruitGuys colleagues and executives:
- The FruitGuys mission is to help support small farms and how the Food Safety Modernization Act affects the small farms that can’t afford the 3rd party audit now required;
- FDA needs to define the requirements for water used for agriculture;
- Advocate for more funding for programs such as WIC, SNAP, FFVP, and USDA Farms to Families so kids and families can keep getting the nutritious fruits and veggies even if they can’t afford them;
- Immigration Reform: Make it easier for migrant workers to come in and out of the U.S. to assist with harvests. John Peterson from Angelic Organics shared this with me during my visit to his farm. He expressed that having visas would make it easier for farmers to get the migrant workers here.
- How The FruitGuys and other family-owned businesses that suffered during the pandemic would benefit from an extension of the Employee Retention Tax Credit, which is set to expire.
Last but not least, Leticia attended the United Fresh PAC dinner, where she was able to network with produce industry leaders and taste food prepared by Presidential Chef Martin Mongiello. She especially enjoyed trying three themed dressings on one salad: Bill Clinton’s favorite banana vinaigrette, Hilary Clinton’s favorite mango dressing, and Ivanka Trump’s balsamic vinaigrette.
“Yes, I tried all three drizzled on my salad like a colorful peace sign!”