Former FFA member sees chapter work a career-building factor

Thursday, February 9, 2012
(Photo contributed) Jessica Kluver-Krupicka, a Le Mars Community School District graduate and former FFA member, seen here displaying a rockcress at a Berry Family of Nurseries' location says she feels her FFA experiences helped in preparing for her career working with nurseries and horticulture.

Jessica Kluver-Krupicka remembers what she described as the "huge" garden her great-grandmother, Helen Hughes, would put in on her acreage near Westfield.

She recalls, too, enjoying what to her looking at it through a child's eyes were the "hundreds of gladiolus" adding color to the acreage.

"Growing up I anticipated spring as the seed catalogs filled our mailbox, and I joined other family members as we visited the garden centers," Jessica said.

It soon became her responsibility to maintain the flower beds and garden on her parents' Century Farm near Craig.

She recalls taking part in the local farmer's market where she'd market salsas, jams and jellies made from her garden plot at the farm.

Jessica, the daughter of Christine Kluver, of Le Mars, and the late Arlan Kluver, was active in 4-H and FFA. She would also rely on her interest in gardening and horticulture for project work in both organizations while a student at Le Mars Community High School.

Currently residing in Ames, Jessica you might say, lives in a world of plants.

Her job is that of an independent sales representative for the Berry Family of Nurseries (formerly Zelenka Nursery).

The company is a national wholesale grower supplying plants to independent garden centers, regional chains, wholesalers and landscapers throughout the Midwest.

The company's trees, shrubs, roses, perennials and tropicals are grown on more than 8,000 acres in Michigan, North Carolina, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Florida and Oregon.

Berry's Oregon site is also responsible for production of premium holiday greens, and, recently partnered with the P. Allen Smith Company on an exclusive collection of wreaths, and a small fruit farm.

Focusing on the upcoming National FFA Week observance Feb. 18-25 Jessica said she feels her FFA opportunities and her agricultural classes under the supervision of Chapter Advisor Brett Oetken have proven valuable in her career.

She said she also valued her membership later in the Iowa State University Collegiate FFA Chapter.

Her FFA Supervised Agriculture Experiences (SAE) project focusing on home gardens and public markets, the participation in public speaking and judging competitions, as well as in leadership and community service projects, were all components of the job-building foundation, Jessica said.

She was chapter secretary and reporter.

"You learned not only to juggle deadlines and projects but to gain confidence in what you were doing," Jessica said.

Jessica feels she was able to capitalize on her entrepreneurial spirit through FFA events and projects, she said.

"This aspect of my time as an FFA member has been especially important in the job I have today in that my career as a sales representative is very entrepreneurial," she said. "I essentially set my own schedule and need self-discipline to be successful."

The confidence gained in public speaking skills have been valuable in helping her while doing customer meetings or having conference calls with upper management, she added.

Jessica's enthusiasm for her present job as an independent sales representative for Berry is evident as she details her responsibilities for a "typical day" she admitted may be anything but typical.

"Each day is very different, and I'm constantly working on many projects with many deadlines, Jessica said. "I'm continuing to learn about needs in the marketplace and solving as many of those needs as I can."

Her schedule includes meetings with customers to promote new items, writing orders while simultaneously working with growing locations as to product availability and condition.

Jessica's work also involves creating marketing support materials and working with her upper management co-workers to add input for special buys and promotions.

"There are also trade shows to attend throughout the Midwest and customer tours of our growing locations to conduct for our customers," Jessica continued. "I find this part of my job particularly rewarding in that I'm working with retail partners and customers to help them build their businesses and their customer base in what today is a very challenging economy."

Still another of her responsibilities, Jessica said, is learning about the new plant introductions and releases not only within Berry, but throughout the wholesale horticultural industry.

This information can be passed on to her customers, she said.

Jessica's nursery and horticulture positions prior to joining Berry in 2009 included those with Monrovia Growers, a major California-based horticulture grower, and the management of a Des Moines independent garden center.

A 2007 Iowa State University graduate with degrees in horticulture and apparel merchandise, design and production, Jessica has continued not only to enjoy working with plants and horticulture within her career setting but off the job as well.

She's active in gardening at a 200-by-200-foot community garden at the outskirts of Ames featuring heirloom vegetables which are either canned or donated to local food pantries.

"I find this to be a great stress reliever on the weekends, especially after a spring shipping rush," Jessica said.