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A Life-changing Experience

My sister and I have always been active in our industry; we are not known for sitting on the sidelines. So, when our industry trade association, the United Fresh Produce Association, created and hosted the first Washington Public Policy Conference in 1995 in America’s capital, we were among the first to sign up to attend.

I remember that first conference. We were a relatively small group, maybe 200 attendees. Besides the expected speaker presentations and receptions, the best part was when we walked to Capitol Hill and met with our elected Congresspeople and Senators! Over the years, industry interest and participation in the conference have grown, and now (more than 20 years later), there are close to 500 industry members who convene in September each year.

After that first conference, we came home and could not get out of our heads how invigorating it was to be in Washington, D.C. To be active citizens.

And that’s when we hatched our big idea. How could we spread “the feeling” to other people in our industry?

A few days later, we went to our mom, Frieda, and told her we were going to invest some of the profits from the company that year to establish the “Frieda Rapoport Caplan Family Business Scholarship.” The scholarship would annually fund up to four members of our industry to attend the Washington conference each year. The only two requirements would be: 1) they had to work in a family business and 2) they could not have already attended the conference.

People asked us why we did it since it would not benefit our company directly. Our answer was that our mom was always active politically. She ran campaigns in college and our parents always took us with them to the polling places when they cast their votes in every election. We wanted a way to honor our mom while she was alive, and we also wanted people in our industry who were members of other family businesses to understand why it is critical to be active politically.

So, over the last 21 years, we have funded between two to four members of a U.S. family business to attend the Washington conference each year. Jackie, my daughter Alex, or I always connect with the scholarship winners and spend time with them at the conference. Afterward, we oftentimes get a personal note from them about how they were personally impacted by their attendance.

Last month, I received a personal letter from one of our 2022 scholarship winners. Her name is Mayra Vasquez and her company is Latin Specialties, LLC from Houston. Interestingly, her company and Frieda’s are considered to be competitors in the Texas market.

Here is an excerpt from her letter:

“Dear Karen,
I write you a little over a month after a life-changing experience you offered my family, our team and me here at Latin Specialties. As you may already know, our family business is small and second-generation. We were born and raised in Mexico City, therefore the impact of visiting Washington for the first time as an immigrant in this country was more impactful than I ever expected. Not only was I able to absorb the feel of America while visiting but had the honor and opportunity to represent my father’s legacy in front of lawmakers. He passed away in late 1998 and left the business to my two brothers and me.

My experiences in D.C. taught me invaluable lessons that I hope to pass on to colleagues in our industry. The most impactful lesson out of this journey for me was to learn how people are so unaware of the struggles our industry goes through, which can result in food insecurity for all if we don’t work together. I see that laws are passed by lawmakers who are not really well-versed on how mother nature works as well as how the supply chain system functions.

I’m excited to say that this experience encouraged me to not only advocate for the food industry in Washington, but to bring it back home and implement the educational piece in our daily practices so others can follow.

I cannot put all that I got from this experience into words. This was a surreal experience for me especially, and I have you and Jackie to thank for this opportunity.”

Wow!—was all I could say when I received this letter from Mayra. We accomplished what we set out to do … to change people’s lives. To encourage them to be active citizens. To promote the future of our industry.

And it did not matter that this attendee is considered to be my competitor by some. She and her company are truly my produce colleagues, and I am so happy we are working together for our mutual benefit.


My sister Jackie stands with the 2022 Frieda Rapoport Caplan Family Business Scholarship winners (L to R): Jesse Wiggins (no relation), Wiggins Farms, LLC; Bianca Kaprielian, Fruit World Company, Inc.; Frieda’s own Jackie Caplan Wiggins; and Mayra Vasquez, Latin Specialties, LLC.

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