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Generation Next: Tenley Fitzgerald spreads her reach for produce and for people

During college Tenley Fitzgerald had two internships. One was in Cuernavaca, Mexico, working with Grupo PM, and the other with the Food Marketing Institute in Washington, DC. While at FMI, she also worked with Red Jacket Orchards sampling its juices in Whole Foods and Wegmans. She later continued with Red Jacket sampling their juices in Western New York.

In her very young years, Fitzgerald also worked as a customer operations manager for Giant Food Stores in the Mid-Atlantic region before moving on to join FreshDirect as a produce analyst, holding several positions during her six-year tenure.Jim-and-Ellen-Allen-Tenley-FitzgeraldTenley Fitzgerald, flanked by her parents Jim and Ellen Allen, on her wedding day.

“I then joined Blue Apron where I sourced and negotiated executive marketing partnerships to drive overall growth and brand awareness,” said Fitzgerald. “I worked on several recipe, cookbook and sponsorship partnership brands, including Chrissy Teigen, Airbnb, Bob’s Burgers, Whole 30, West Elm, Top Chef, Feeding America and the New York Botanical Gardens.”

While this culmination of experience for someone not yet age 30 seems remarkable, it’s notable that Fitzgerald was raised knowing that hard work, integrity, goals and helping her fellow man were the path to success and happiness.

She is the daughter of Jim Allen, New York Apple Sales’ vice president of sales and marketing, so she grew up being taught the same values that are reflected in her parent’s reputation.

“In 2017 I started working with NYAS on social media. Since then my tasks have expanded into work with partnerships and branding,” she said. “I’m excited to see where my role continues to evolve with the company.

“My dad has been in the produce industry his entire career and was the biggest influence in my initially working in the industry,” continued Fitzgerald. “I have joined him on business trips to PMA, United Fresh and FMI. On my 18th birthday I lobbied with him on Capitol Hill for migrant workers’ rights. I also spent time at the New York State Fair at the apple booth and other sampling events. When I was deliberating studies for college, I reflected on my time spent with my dad over the years. I didn’t know if I would always stay in the produce industry, but I knew food was my passion and I wanted to pursue a career in food marketing.”

Fitzgerald graduated as a Food Fellow—an honors program for students with food industry interests and career aspirations—from Cornell University in 2009 with a degree in Food Marketing. The initiative provides undergraduate students with a focused perspective on the food industry.

“During my time as a Fellow we traveled to Shanghai, China, to study the business and marketing strategies of various international food and consumer companies,” she added.

Tenley-and-Owen Nosy-Iranja-MadagascarTenley and Owen Fitzgerald in Nosy Iranja, Madagascar.Her life was about to take another major directional swing. She met her future husband, Owen Fitzgerald, in 2015. They married in August 2018 in Sage Chapel, just a few feet from the Cornell University campus clocktower under which her paternal grandparents were engaged decades earlier.

“Owen studied civil engineering at the New Jersey Institute of Technology,” said Fitzgerald. “He then served in the Peace Corps in Mali. Following his service there he returned to Ghana to work for a private engineering firm out of New Jersey. He then went on to study at Seton Hall and got his masters in International Political Economy and Development from Fordham University.”

Since graduating, he has been working for Catholic Relief Services in Burkina Faso and Madagascar, where the couple currently resides. His background in water and sanitation has been his focus in Madagascar.

“Owen recently completed a proposal that will grant 30,000 people access to fresh, clean water that do not have access today,” said Fitzgerald. “He is dedicated and hardworking, and I’m just thankful to know him.”

The couple also lived in Madrid, Spain for six weeks. They enjoy hiking and exploring, and have traveled to Montana, Wyoming and Uganda. They recently traveled to France, and are planning a trip to Patagonia in Chile later this year.

Despite these travels, nothing could have fully prepared them for the unique and diverse culture, and lifestyle change, they would experience in Madagascar.

Since moving there, Fitzgerald has taken on an additional role with Madecasse Chocolate and Vanilla, which was started after two former Peace Corps volunteers wanted to start a business that would best serve the communities.

“I have been privileged to join the team and to learn about the chocolate and vanilla industries,” she said. “I am working with Madecasse on social media and partnerships. This opportunity enabled me to visit the cacao forest-farm in northern Madagascar and meet the third-generation farmer, one of 25 children, from whom we pull our cacao. By working directly with their farmer partners, Madecasse ensures the farmers make more money, continuously develop skills and expand their business due to consistent, reliable demand.”

If that weren’t already an overflowing plate, Fitzgerald is also a marathon runner. She has run 12 marathons, including seven New York City events, two in Chicago and in Berlin. Her most recent runs were the Paris Marathon on April 14 and the London Marathon on April 28.

“A marathon is a labor of love,” she said. “You train for weeks and then come together with runners from around the world. Next on my marathon docket are Tokyo and Boston. Those who run all six major marathons receive a fancy medal; my fingers are crossed.”

She also loves to cook and has aspirations of attending culinary school; namely Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, her dream school.

“I hope to someday own a specialty food and wine store where patrons can cozy up to the bar and read a book, enjoy a charcuterie plate, indulge in homemade baked goods and lose track of time,” noted Fitzgerald.

“When I visit a new city, I often overlook the museums and beloved landmarks and plan my route based on where I want to eat and drink,” she said. “I may have missed the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, but I can tell you where I had the best pain au chocolate and white butter beans with lemon zest.”

Wedding Cornell-University-Tenley and Owen Fitzgerald’s wedding at Cornell University.

On the future of the produce industry, Fitzgerald acknowledges the many challenges ahead, such as climate change, aging farmers, a need for younger generations and increasing population.

“There is a lot of hope in technological advances like hydro and aquaponics, urban farming, cross breeding of stronger fruits and vegetables and more,” she said. “Organizations like the Young Farmers Coalition are also doing a lot to fight for farmers’ rights, encourage and support young people in agriculture and improve legislation. I am hopeful that my generation will take an invested stance in supporting our environment by reducing the use of plastic, growing flowers and crops that support bees, using brands that regenerate our earth, eating less meat and supporting organizations and politicians that protect and fight for our lands and wildlife.

Protecting and saving our environment needs to be on top of everyone’s agenda,” she stressed. “It may seem like we can’t do much, but there are small actions that we can take every day to better our world for our own and future generations. It’s up to us.”

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