Generation Next: Family business ignites Sarah Consalo's passion for produce career
Sarah Consalo grew up with Consalo Family Farms in South Jersey being part of the landscape. The farm was started by her great grandfather in 1927 and the business was the path to success for the three generations before her, as well as for her two older siblings.
“At a very early age, we were introduced to the idea of working for the family business,” she said.
In fact, 30-year-old Chelsea Consalo, executive vice president, and 28-year-old Anthony Consalo, senior vice president of procurement, joined in the farming operation full time immediately after graduating from college.
Sarah had a different idea. “Growing up in Vineland, NJ, I was always surrounded by farmland,” she said. “In 2013, I began to ride horses and this hobby has followed me everywhere I go.”
She was introduced to riding as a summer camp activity when she was a freshman in high school. “I think my love of horses came from my grandfather who had horses on his farm,” she recalled, noting that her mother also rode horses as a kid, though Sarah did not know that until she got into the sport.
“It started with one horse which then multiplied into several,” she said. “The competitions began and my love for the sport of dressage came to light.”
Sarah started competing in regional dressage events traveling to other states along the Eastern Seaboard. She was good at it, too, achieving regional, national and even an international title along the way. “In 2019, I was able to compete as an international dressage rider showing all over the country and even placing the highest adult amateur score at the famous ‘Dressage at Devon’ in Devon, PA.”
The success she earned caused Sarah to consider a career other than working for the family farming business. Owning a barn, training and breeding horses, and competing in equestrian events appeared to be a very viable career path. When Sarah entered Rowan University in nearby Glassboro, NJ, in 2016, she picked a marketing major to help her promote what would become her barn and business.
“I talked to a lot of other trainers and they said a marketing major would be very useful,” she said. “I considered equine sciences or breeding, but I thought that would be too specific if I ended up going another direction. I would lose the power of the degree. It was hard on my family to hear that I did not want to go into the family business, but they were proud of me for following the path I felt fit me best.”
In the spring of 2020, Sarah was heading toward her college graduation day with her career plans seemingly in reach. Then COVID-19 reared its ugly head. The pandemic upset many industries, including the equestrian world. “When COVID-19 hit, everything stopped. There were no more shows, barns were shut down, and my training came to a halt.
Sarah spent her final days at Rowan University on her computer taking classes online and wondering about the future. She thought the equestrian industry would have a very difficult time coming back.
“I went to my dad and asked him if I could come and work for the family business while I figured out what I wanted to do. In the summer of 2020, he gave me my first job working in his office underneath my siblings.”
Skip Consalo told his daughter to work in all facets of the company to see what aspect of the business she liked best. “I spent months training with every employee he had,” Sarah recalled. “Where I found my niche was in the accounting side of the company. I began doing payroll and handling the accounts receivable aspect and fell in love with my work. As we continued to expand, I then started to branch into the import side of our business. I now oversee accounts payable, accounts receivable, and handle all the tracking, finances and costs that go along with the imports.”
As she became immersed in the work, Sarah got hooked. No longer did she look at Consalo Family Farms as a temporary employment opportunity. “It was in the beginning of 2022 when I got really involved on the import side that I determined this is what I wanted to do for my career,” she said. “I knew what I was doing and I really enjoyed it.”
Sarah, who is vice president of finance, looks around at the Consalo family business and the industry at large, and likes what she sees. “There are a lot of young women coming into the industry both in our company and all around us,” she said. “I see myself rising up in the industry and getting better and better. I went to Peru in September to meet with accounts and loved it.”
In assessing her own skills, Sarah believes she works very well with others and loves meeting new people. Consalo Family Farms is on a growth curve and Sarah wants to be part of it. “My father has taken our company to new heights over the last decade. We have expanded around the country and throughout the globe, creating lasting partnerships to bring our company’s vision to life,” she said. “Our core crops have always been our delicious blueberries and our home-grown Jersey vegetables. In 2020, we expanded our citrus line and created the Little Smoochies brand, which has gotten exceptional company feedback. Expanding this line and packaging has been beneficial to our success in the citrus category.”
In fact, expanding the import citrus business is top of mind for Sarah. “We are definitely expanding in the citrus area. Seeing our business grow, I know there are no limitations to where I can go with this company. With exponential growth comes hardships and opportunities. Domestic farming is also becoming more crucial to us. As a grower, packer and shipper with a focus on quality, it is key that we monitor the product from beginning to end. We have expanded our domestic acreage with a focus on organics to ensure the best flavor, freshness and quality for the consumer.”
Sarah said the best thing about her relatively new career path is that she gets to work with her family. “I am lucky enough to work with not only my family but the people in the world who inspire me to be better,” she said. “They have always supported me through all my endeavors and as the next generation I am going to have to fill big shoes.”
Sarah has not left her love of horses behind. She shares that passion with her mother and the two of them launched their own facility — Royal Blue Riding LLC — on the family property. “Together, we care for our own barn where we have competition horses, rescues and our beloved Clydesdales. I was able to obtain the best of both worlds.”