By Tim Linden
Ryan Talley is very much looking forward to the unprecedented move of serving a second year as the Western Growers Chairman of the Board…but he certainly isn’t looking for a repeat.
It is no understatement to note that 2020 was a year like no other. As a result, the Executive Committee of the Western Growers Board of Directors proposed that Talley get another shot at serving the association from the chairman’s perch. “The thinking was that I got cheated out of my year,” said the president of Talley Farms, which is located in Arroyo Grande, CA. “With everything being virtual and the fact we did not have an annual meeting, I really missed a lot of what the experience is supposed to be.”
From his perspective, Talley believes it is the close connections and camaraderie that accompany a year as the top volunteer leader that he missed the most. “It is just very difficult for everyone to be engaged 100 percent of the time when we are holding board and committee meetings virtually. Over video or on the phone, honestly you just don’t give it the attention it deserves. The engagement isn’t there as it is just natural that you are in your office and other things come up.”
Talley is very hopeful that 2021 is far different than 2020, but he doesn’t think it will be a return to the pre-COVID situation. “2021 will be a different year. With a vaccine available, I’m hoping many things get back to the way they were,” he said. “But we’re also going to be dealing with a new normal.”
He expects that the experiences of 2020 will change the workplace for the foreseeable future. “Not everyone is going to come back to an office setting,” he said, referring both to the industry at large and specifically to the running of Western Growers.”
Talley said that is a takeaway from 2020 that can serve business well. A lot of time is taken up commuting to work and visiting customers and clients. While he expects much of that to return, he also believes that this past year has proven that sometimes it is equally as valuable, and much more efficient, to conduct meetings via video or phone.
He also expects the emphasis on personal safety to remain top of mind and inform much decision making as the available vaccines are not going to instantly eradicate the virus.
Personally, Talley said the existence of the virus affected his thinking. “Initially, it was a struggle. I had to proactively determine how I was going to feel everyday and how I chose to conduct myself,” he said. “I determined I had to focus on the positive and focus on the things I can improve, letting other things go by. What can we do to help our fellow Americans?”
He added that “being optimistic is a cognitive choice.” He also expressed gratitude that he works in an industry that was able to make a positive difference throughout the year.
“I am optimistic about the coming year,” he said speaking of the political changes. “It starts at the top and I am hoping Biden can cut through the divisiveness in our country and bring us together better. I don’t think the divisions are there in everyday Americans as the media would have you believe. You know what they say, ‘whatever bleeds reads.’”
He believes every American needs to take a positive attitude as the new administration comes into office and reach across the aisle searching for common ground. “Right now, the pendulum has swung so far to one side (with regard to divisiveness), I think it is going to start to swing back.”
Talley is also optimistic that by the time he presides over the Western Growers Annual Meeting in November in San Diego, the produce industry will have emerged in a post-COVID world with some semblance of normalcy. He also gave a shout out to Western Growers President and CEO Dave Puglia, who, like Talley, had his first year in his new position greatly challenged by the pandemic. “I think Dave did a wonderful job. He had the task of taking over the helm during the pandemic. He had the advantage of knowing the ins and outs of the association and was able to quickly move into his new leadership role. In fact, I am very proud of the job he has done. I’m sure it was overwhelming at times, but he rose to the challenge and stayed positive and open-minded. I think he was the perfect person for the job.”