It was a chilly day in the strawberry growing fields. There was a light sprinkle of rain mixed with heavy winds. It was heavy jacket weather.   

The group I was with watched while the teams of pickers were in the fields. As every berry is picked, it is placed first in a container and then into a case. Every case is packed by hand and created in the field. Each picker had a small cart they pushed in front of them to hold their case in place while the picker packed it full.  

Pickers spend hours at a time bent down at their feet picking berries. They are given one break in their ten-hour shift. They sift through the plants and pick only the best berries, as each case is examined upon completion. Once a case is packed, the picker RUNS to the truck to drop their case off, pass inspection, get their badge scanned and run back to begin picking their next cases. The pickers are paid at a piece rate. The more cases they pick in a shift, the more money they are paid. 

What a humbling experience this was for me to see how physically hard they work for the food we eat every day. No machines. No shade. It’s back-breaking work to provide for their families while providing food for mine. The gratitude from seeing this happen was life changing for me. I will forever be grateful for things I may not have been before. It will never be just a strawberry moving forward. This experience makes me reflect on my 18-year career here at Associated Food Stores. 

We recently celebrated Supermarket Appreciation Day.  What a great opportunity to recognize our team members at every level for the work they do feeding families and enriching lives. I am so grateful for the opportunity to hold a position within an organization that allows me to foster, and support, a culture of gratitude. My leaders have always expressed appreciation, celebrated our wins, promoted random acts of kindness, and provided feedback with gratitude. These actions have made our teams stronger, and we have bonded as a work family. These gestures of gratitude are key to our success as they enhance morale, create a healthy work environment, boost productivity and creativity and strengthen teams.  

Throughout these times, it has helped me grow as a leader and be truly grateful for all the team members I have been privileged to know.  Regardless of position, every team member plays a role in our success. One example of this teamwork occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. We likely all remember when COVID hit. The first couple of months were treacherous for everyone. Our team members worked tirelessly to ensure sure our guests’ families were fed while wondering if there would be any food left at the end of their shift to buy for their own families. Every cough, sneeze and sniffle were terrifying because of the unknown.  It changed perspective and instilled an overwhelming gratitude for the teams that worked so hard. 

My family is my reason. They give me every reason to be grateful. I have a husband of 31 years, three amazing children, and the most beautiful granddaughter I could ever imagine having.  Oh, and a couple of pretty cute puppers! 

To conclude, in this great thing we call life, gratitude is the sweetest feeling that resonates through our hearts, balances and builds our connections and shines through our souls. I encourage you to find opportunities to share your gratitude with others, for it is in the act of expressing gratitude that we truly acknowledge the beauty and kindness present in our lives. Embrace each day with a thankful heart, and watch as the world around you transforms into a place filled with joy, love and endless possibilities. 

Danni Barnhart is the ARO produce/floral sales manager and has worked for Associated Food Stores for 18 years.