This profile was originally published in November 2019
Produce Lead | Fremont
Walking through the certified organic produce department at Fremont PCC, you’ll notice the locally grown pears, crisp green beans and freshly washed bunches of carrots. But what you may not notice is the man who keeps it all running smoothly.
Produce Lead Thinley Gyatso has worked for PCC since 1996. He’s the first staff member from Tibet and has helped 19 others from his home country also get jobs at PCC. What started as a desire to learn about organic food has turned into a full-time career at a co-op he cares deeply about. And he knows the people he works with really care about him, too.
He says it’s the supportive culture that makes PCC stand out, from providing ongoing education and training for his job to accommodating his schedule so he can pick up his 5 and 8-year-old sons after school to helping take care of unexpected medical bills at home thanks to his fantastic health care benefits.
Thinley leaves his house an hour before his shift starts at 5:30 a.m. The store won’t open for another 30 minutes, but he’s already busy washing and putting out crisp Fuji apples, mounds of shiitake mushrooms and whatever else arrived in the previous day’s shipment. “Every season the produce looks different,” he says. His primary goal is to make it look beautiful.
As young professionals and families filter in, you’ll find Thinley rotating between managing his team, encouraging customers to try seasonal produce like persimmons and winter squash, and talking politics with them, a topic Thinley is passionate about — he’s traveled to Washington D.C. five times to discuss Tibetan human rights issues.
Another topic that’s important to him? PCC’s relationship with local farmers. He and his team regularly visit organic farms in Eastern Washington, Sequim and Skagit Valley to learn first-hand how their produce is grown.
Thinley isn’t afraid of hard work (or lifting heavy things) so when the day’s shipment arrives, he switches gears and starts unloading palettes, so the lunch crowd can enjoy the freshest produce possible. “My job here is never boring,” he says.
Toward the end of his work day, Thinley calls one of the co-op’s produce suppliers in Oregon to place an order for more organic fruits and vegetables. Depending on the season, it could be anything from pears to snap peas.
Before picking up his kids and taking them to play or to do homework at nearby Greenwood Library, he makes sure his work family has everything they need. Fremont PCC is open until midnight, so there’s always fresh produce being unloaded, washed and displayed. But Thinley doesn’t just check in with his department. He helps out wherever he’s needed, from the bakery to the cheese department to everywhere in between.
On days Thinley isn’t prepping peak-season produce, you’ll find him enjoying the great outdoors. He loves to go camping with his family, hike Mt. Baker and sit in the hot springs at Olympic National Park.