In the fall of 2015, Jim Prevor called me one day to ask if I would like to write a column for Produce Business. I was flattered and said yes without any hesitation. And then I panicked. What would I write about? Jim said, “We’ll call the column ‘Produce on the Menu.’ You can write about the work you do with foodservice leaders and restaurants.”
I calmed down a bit and started writing. Looking back in my file recently, I laughed out loud when I noticed that my first column had eight versions. Because of Jim’s faith in me, I have enjoyed lots of time to get better at writing the column; I now typically write one version.
This column marks my 80th column. The first one appeared in the December 2015 issue. Most years, I’ve written 12 columns, but there were a few years when I wrote just 10, including 2020 when a big health scare (West Nile virus and Bell’s palsy) turned my life upside down and made keeping up with just the basics too much for me for many months.
My phone call with Jim in the fall of 2015 wasn’t my first. He was one of the first people I called when I decided to leave The Culinary Institute of America and go out on my own. I reached out to him for advice on starting a business. I had a long list of questions that I wanted to discuss. He kept dodging my questions and going in different directions. I got a bit frustrated, and I finally blurted out, “Jim! Just tell me what I need to do to be successful!” He laughed, paused for a moment, and then thoughtfully replied, “Say yes to everything. Especially the requests that scare you.”
That advice has served me well for the past nine years. Due to Jim’s encouragement, I have said yes to many opportunities that have stretched and stressed me. The “worst” was moderating a panel at the 2017 Aspen Ideas Festival. I was on stage for 90 minutes, hosting a conversation with four senior leadership executives from well-known brands in produce and retail. The hot lights of the cameras were much cooler than me that day, as I sweated every detail, striving to maintain calm and poise while trying to keep a very fast-paced, thoughtful conversation going on stage. As I walked off stage, breathing a huge sigh of relief, I thought of Jim and how proud he would have been of me that day had he been in the audience.
When I learned of Jim’s passing last fall, I fell silent for many hours, wondering how I and so many others were going to move forward without him. I thought of Debbie, William and Matthew. I thought of Ken Whitacre and the rest of the team at Phoenix Media Network. A few days after Jim’s passing, Ken called me and said, “I need your help.” My response was a simple “yes” even though I was scared of what I was getting into at that moment. Ken needed help planning the foodservice program for the New York Produce Show. I was one of many women from the industry who stepped up and made “The Show” a top priority.
One of the challenges of saying yes to everything is stress. When my calendar becomes too full and I barely have time to breathe, I stop and remind myself that life is short. I encourage myself to take time to reevaluate my priorities and carve out more time for my husband, for the gym, for friends, for vacations.
Sometimes it’s much harder to say no than yes. I don’t like letting people down. As a consultant, I worry if I say no to one opportunity, the next opportunity may go to someone else. Ken Whitacre called recently to ask if I could help with “The Show” again this year. I explained that I have too many projects and too much travel, but that I would be happy to take on a smaller role this year.
I was in New York for five days last December for “The Show,” continually losing my room keys (or so I told the front desk). I ended up with a collection of seven Hilton New York Midtown room keys that sit in various places in my office. The keys are printed with “In Remembrance of Jim Prevor: Industry Icon + Maverick Thought-Leader,” and a beautiful image of him. The key should have also said Friend and Mentor.
I’m blessed with many mentors from within and outside the produce industry, but no one has given to me as generously as Jim. Ken is carrying on the legacy with his kindness and support. He was kind and understanding when I told him about my limits for what I could commit to this fall. I think I’m learning how to say yes to everything without giving my everything.
Once again, I think Jim would be proud of me.
Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RDN, FAND is a farmer’s daughter from North Dakota, award-winning dietitian, culinary nutrition expert, and founder and president of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting, Inc. She is the retail nutrition marketing and foodservice partnership specialist for the Buy California Marketing Agreement/CA GROWN, a member of the Texas A&M Institute for Advancing Health Through Agriculture AgriLife External Advisory Board, a member of the Bayer Vegetable Seeds Horticultural Advisory Council, and co-author of Cooking á la Heart, a 500-recipe cookbook based on plant-forward eating cultures from around the world. You can learn more about her business at www.farmersdaughterconsulting.com and follow her insights on food and flavor on social media @AmyMyrdalMiller.