Two and a half years ago, Fresh Produce was just at the ten-year mark with our summer internship program, Famous, and the team was eager to engage the growing community of young professionals in the area with a different experience. Something longer than the two-month internship, more intensive, and even more hands-on with room for these professionals to explore things they are curious about within Fresh Produce, Ipso Gallery, and the industry.
We launched our apprenticeship program in April, 2018. Mike Hart famously called it “an apprenticeship on steroids, and a new approach to workforce development in marketing” in an Argus Leader article. We caught up with our current apprentices, Bailey Possail and Mike Helland, to see how their time with Fresh Produce has been so far.
Angela: When did you start as an Apprentice at Fresh Produce? Can you tell me a little bit about your role?
Bailey: I started on January 8, 2020, as the Writing / Creative Apprentice. And with that comes a lot of hats, from writing to production. You and I also work on content strategy and creation for our social channels and website.
Mike: I’m a Media Specialist under the Account Service apprenticeship program. I started in the spring of 2019. Like many of the roles at Fresh Produce, and like Bailey just said, we wear multiple hats. I work on media strategy and buying, social media management, and reporting. I also do a little project management.
How did you end up in this Apprentice role?
BP: After I got done interning last summer for Famous, I stayed in touch with Mike about future opportunities as I was finishing up my last semester at South Dakota State University. And then in December when I was done with school, that’s when Mike offered me a position as an Apprentice.
MH: I knew about the apprenticeship right away. I have always kept in contact with Ted. We were getting coffee together for a couple of weeks where we were just talking about opportunities, and he brought up the apprenticeship. He thought that it would be a really good opportunity for me to apply. So that’s how I got introduced to the role.
Bailey, I remember you saying that you never looked at yourself as a writer or even pursuing a writing role. And Mike, you were working at Washington Pavilion as a Sound Engineer. Those things are fairly distant from what you’re doing at Fresh Produce. Can you tell me about your previous experience and your current trajectory?
BP: As you said, I never thought I’d actually become a writer. I wasn’t really introduced to copywriting in the advertising program at SDSU and when I applied to the Famous internship program, I actually interviewed for the Account Service position. At the time, I felt that was the right fit for me. I’m not sure what it was about my Perkins radio ad, but I got offered the writing position as an intern and that just kind of stuck! I’m so glad they offered me that intern position instead and saw the potential to work out this apprenticeship program for me because it’s literally been so mind-opening. And the growth in the past nine or ten months that I’ve been here has been so immense that I just never thought it would look like this for me, honestly.
We all enjoyed the Perkins spec ad you submitted as part of your application! Mike, you were working at a different place in a different environment. What made you say “Hell yeah, I’m totally interested in this apprenticeship” when you met with Ted?
MH: I grew up in an advertising household so I always knew about it as an industry. But after I graduated college, there were about three years or so where I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew I liked certain things, and that’s why I worked in sound and live production, but I jumped around a whole bunch of different jobs. And even though I enjoyed them, it wasn’t until Fresh Produce that it was like, “Okay, this is a career. This is really setting myself up for the future to gain really invaluable skills.” I felt like it was the first step to get my foot in the door to the professional world.
That’s neat! So Mike, you’ve been here a year and a half. And Bailey, it’s almost been a year. What is something that’s really stuck with you either about the model of the apprenticeship itself, or maybe the freedom in what you’re doing?
MH: I think the entire role of an apprentice is a unique opportunity. You’re not bound by a certain role. And you’re able to try out what you’re interested in, and you’re able to assist where you need to. You can really explore the curriculum of advertising. I think that’s one of the really unique and cool opportunities that we get—when we start the apprenticeship program, we receive a curriculum that includes classes, books, etc. I learn a lot that way because I really do enjoy the school model of having homework and being assigned things.
BP: Bouncing off of that, there is that curriculum that you get right away. And I’ve also had conversations with Mike (Hart), where he’ll ask “What do you want to learn next? Is there anything else you want to add to your experience?” And so that’s really nice. Because yes, even though I am a writing apprentice, I can still tell him, “Hey, I want to go on more video shoots. I want to get into photography” or things like that, and he listens and will help me find those opportunities. There’s just this level of trust and appreciation between everyone here.
I was kind of jealous of your curriculum when we were putting it together. Tell me about your curriculum and some of the things that you’ve enjoyed. Because it’s a weird mix of things, right? Things that aren’t directly related to your role, it might be related to creativity or something that someone in the crew has really enjoyed?
MH: Some of the most fun things in my curriculum are things geared towards Ipso. There were a couple of documentaries that I had to watch. One of them was ‘Cutie and the Boxer’, which is about a painter who uses boxing gloves as his way of painting on a canvas. And then there was another one called ‘The Price of Everything’ and it was just about the art world. So those documentaries are a great way to get involved in thinking about art and Ipso. Then there’s the reading list. There were a bunch of books on there, some I wouldn’t have considered reading. But they were all great. And then also, we were required to watch ‘Back to the Future.’ So that’s important.
BP: Yes, I’m saving ‘Back to the Future.’ I think my favorite thing so far has been a show on Netflix called ‘Chef’s Table’. A part of me thought, “I have to watch a show about chefs? Okay, this is kind of interesting.” But it’s so artsy and seeing how people conceptualize foods and how they make them is so interesting. And then you can take that same thinking and apply it to your work in really unique ways. That’s been my favorite. I’ve actually continued watching it because I think it’s so interesting.
I love how Ipso and that kind of creative thinking are incorporated into the curriculum, and recognizing how one creative endeavor can feed the other is so important in our creative practice here. I keep saying apprentice, but I feel like there’s this plain we’re all on. There are no clear hierarchies here. And I like that you mentioned trust, Bailey. Can you talk a little bit about what you really enjoy as a member of the crew, being able to explore different things that you’re interested in within Fresh Produce or Ipso?
BP: That trust factor really helps me open up about the things I want to learn and make sure that I’m pursuing those opportunities or at least telling people on the team about the opportunities I would like put in place for me. I think my favorite so far—although it’s nerve-racking and it scares me—has probably been getting into video production. There have been a few clients that I’ve got to sit in on and do interviews with and it’s been really exciting to work with clients in that way. I always assumed as a creative, I wouldn’t be up in front with the clients like Account Service, so that’s been great.
MH: One thing working at Fresh Produce has taught me is the importance of your surroundings. I’m in an environment where I’m being challenged to get better at my craft every single day. And it’s kind of like being in a gym. Like how heavyweight lifters train with other heavyweight lifters, I’m training and growing by simply working side by side with some of the most creative people in town. Just being in that same environment as them, even if a day might seem tough or you feel you didn’t accomplish something. It’s like training in the gym.
That’s a quotable quote right there. The apprenticeship is like training in the gym.*
*Disclaimer: Mike Helland has never actually trained at a gym. Pokémon gym, maybe.