Date: Mar 23, 2020
Magazine:
March April 2020

Director Profile: Alexandra Allen

Principal

Main Street Produce

Santa Maria, CA

Member Since 1988  |  Director Since 2019

Alexandra Allen grew up in Salinas and is now married to a grower-shipper, Paul Allen, in Santa Maria. Those two end points suggest a life path much different than the one she took. In between Salinas and Santa Maria, Alexandra was a professional athlete, an attorney and a hedge fund manager, and she lived in Los Angeles, Washington D.C, and Bismarck, North Dakota.

Today, she is the compliance offer for Main Street Produce and its growing operation, Freshway Farms.

Alexandra’s journey did, in fact, begin in the Salinas Valley but not as a farm girl. “No, I wasn’t in agriculture, but I did develop an affinity for it.”

And she has very fond memories of the area. In her early years, she attended school in the one-room Lagunitas School House. “It was built in 1897,” she said, noting that today it resides in a local museum.

Alexandra was also introduced to horse riding and became quite good at barrel racing. In fact, she went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo not to pursue an agricultural degree, but because it had a rodeo program. She competed throughout high school and college. Upon graduating from Cal Poly with a degree in Communications, Alexandra joined the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association and competed for more than a decade. She is quick to admit that it was not a lucrative career that paid the bills, but she called it more than a hobby. “It was a serious fun thing,” she noted, adding that there was prize money, just not a lot of it. It was during this period that she spent time calling North Dakota home.

At age 35, she ended the barrel racing affiliation and headed back to California to pursue a law degree. “I moved to Santa Monica and went to UCLA Law School.”

Upon graduation, she utilized her law degree in the investment banking world, eventually becoming a hedge fund manager working in both Los Angeles and D.C.

Alexandra liked the work and liked Big City life but saw it more as an experience in her journey rather than the sum total of what she would do.

It was serendipity that led to her current life and career. Through social media, Alexandra reconnected with her best friend from second grade in that old one-room Lagunitas School House. “She lived in Santa Maria and invited me for a visit. Lo and behold, I was introduced to Paul Allen.”

That was 2009 and the couple were married two years later. During those two years, Alexandra knew that their future would be in Santa Maria rather than Los Angeles as it is virtually impossible to transfer a farming career to the urban environment. And she also had a yearning to return to the type of rural environment from which she came. “I’m a bloom where you plant it kind of person,” she quipped. But that didn’t make the move, nor the decision to change careers, easy. She knew that Santa Maria was not the epicenter of hedge fund work so that path was closed. “I could have tried going to work for a law firm or hung out my own shingle, but I really wasn’t interested in doing that,” Alexandra said. “But I also wasn’t interested in Paul making up a job for me or it being just a take-your-wife-to work thing.”

They did get married. She did move to Santa Maria. And she did start working for the company. “It started out with me reviewing the employee handbook and it grew from there,” she said.

While Alexandra does not believe she was the cause, the company has grown quite significantly since she came aboard. That, in turn, has greatly expanded her role and the work that her compliance counsel position needs to tackle.

Main Street Produce was founded by Paul’s father, Alton Allen, in 1976, after he first served as a tractor salesman. Alton grew up in Blythe and married his wife there, before her family intervened and facilitated a move to the Central Coast with the tractor salesman job. Alton sold tractors but eventually wanted to get in the driver’s seat. He rented five acres and found four others to sharecrop the land with him. The group built a cooler and called it Main Street Produce. Over the first couple of decades, Alton ran the operation growing his own crops on rented land and offering cooling service for other growers.

Son Paul joined the operation and eventually took control when Alton died too soon in 2003. Alexandra said that it has been under Paul’s stewardship that the company has grown and expanded exponentially.

Under the banner of Freshway Farms, the Allens grow about 1,000 acres of vegetables and 400 acres of berries. They sell the output through Main Street Produce and continue to offer cooling services to many other growers.

Alexandra is a person who likes to get involved and as such she has jumped with both feet into the produce industry. “It was a big learning curve as production agriculture is much different than my previous work,” she said. “But there are many legal and environmental issues that I deal with every day just as every other grower has to do.”

She has been on the board of both her local grower-shipper association as well as with California Women for Agriculture. She is very excited about her new position on the Western Growers Board of Directors. “I’ve only been on the board a short time, but I love the tremendous passion that the board members have for this industry.”

For fun, she has returned to the horse community as she and Paul now own a couple of draft horses. The Budweiser commercial features those type of horses, which is how Alexandra explains the breed to a novice. Like in the commercial, draft horses are comfortable doing hard work like pulling a plow or a beer wagon.

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