Takeaways From West Coast Produce Expo: ‘Smell Some Crayons’

The idiom “stop and smell the roses” is pretty dang good—but at this year’s West Coast Produce Expo, it got a 21st-century upgrade. FruitGuys Produce Buyer Miguel Esteban Robles came back from the event with a bushel of ideas thanks in part to keynote speaker Erik Wahl

JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa
JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa hosted West Coast Produce Expo 2024

“His message was to be creative, think out of the box, be innovative, and don’t forget to smell some crayons,” Miguel recalled.   

The West Coast Produce Expo is a three-day sustainable produce summit in Palm Desert, California, where fruit and vegetable buyers can meet with farmers and other suppliers. The FruitGuys attends every year, and the 2024 team included Miguel, Operations Manager Billie Goodricke, and Production Supervisor Juana Trujillo. They had an action-packed weekend visiting expo booths, networking, and listening to motivational speakers like Wahl.

Coming Soon to FruitGuys: Crayon Meetings?

Wahl is a professional artist. He took to the stage on June 1 and painted as he spoke over a soundtrack of U2 songs. 

Flashbacks to Childhood

“He actually initiated the conversation with, ‘How many of you can draw?’” Billie said. “Probably ten people in the whole room raised their hands. I sure didn’t—I was like, ‘I can’t draw for beans!’” 

Then Wahl asked the group to imagine a room full of kindergartners. How many of them would have raised their hands? 

Erik Wahl painting on stage
Erik Wahl painting on stage at the West Coast Produce Expo

All of them, of course! He explained that adults have lost that open-mindedness, confidence, and creativity—and to be better workers and managers, we need to get it back. One way to do that is by stopping and smelling the crayons.

Fun fact: That distinctive crayon smell is supposedly one of the top 20 most recognizable scents and can even help lower your blood pressure.

“Wahl went so far as to say that when his team meets for meetings, they take notes with their crayons,” Billie recalled. “…The idea of going back to a lighthearted time in our lives through nostalgia, positivity, and fun at work really resonated with me.” 

Bringing Inspiration Home

Billie, Miguel, and Juana were so impressed that they shared Wahl’s story with the whole FruitGuys team—and we just might get some crayons ourselves!

Juana also took the lessons home to her family, hoping to spark her kids’ creativity.

Kid holding crayons

“The keynote inspired me to buy a big piece of wood and set it in the backyard with different kinds of brushes and a variety of paint colors. I want to be able to say to my kids, ‘Go, go to the backyard. Let it out and see what you make out of it!’” she said. 

Of course, Wahl’s speech wasn’t the only highlight of the West Coast Produce Expo for Miguel, Billie, and Juana. They also had a great time browsing the booths, saying hello to FruitGuys partners, and making new connections. 

Finding Friends Old and New

It’s hard to say what excited the team more: meeting new farmers or shaking hands with current FruitGuys suppliers in person. Billie and Miguel have each attended the expo at least six times and said that aspect never gets old. 

Miguel headshot
FruitGuys Produce Buyer Miguel Esteban Robles

“What I really get out of this conference is the opportunity to meet some of our current growers/suppliers all under the same roof,” Miguel said. “We were able to meet with Jake from FirstFruits Farms, Aaron from Mountain View Fruit Sales, and Sergio from Bee Sweet Citrus. Plus, we checked in with Trinity Fruit Company, Brandt Farms, Chelan Fresh, Homegrown Organic Farms, Jacob’s Farm, and RMD International Farms.”

Billie, Miguel, and Juana were also excited to meet the Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association for the first time. The association represents small farms across the state. They connected with FruitGuys through the expo’s BizMatch program, which pairs up buyers and suppliers based on their products of interest. 

“We met them at their booth on Saturday and they had one of the farmers there with them. That was a highlight of the weekend for me because those farm relationships are one of the most fun aspects of my job working for The FruitGuys,” Billie said. 

KiwiThe team also met new kiwi, grape, citrus, and avocado growers at the Expo. 

“The setup is fantastic, from being able to put a face to the name of current growers/suppliers to meeting face-to-face with future ones,” Juana said. “… It’s always great to leave a meeting knowing that there are new connections about to happen.”

Where to Grow From Here

As always, the West Coast Produce Expo was inspiring. The FruitGuys team left with new connections, fresh ideas, and insights into the latest fruit varieties and technologies on the market. Miguel, Billie, and Juana are already counting down the days until next year. But for now, you’ll have to excuse us—it’s time to buy some crayons. 

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