Tara J. Gorman: Retail manager, AC Produce

Tara Gorman, working in the “fruit mines”.

What does a day in your work life look like?

I arrive at the shop at 7 a.m. every day – Okay, 7:10 if I make too much use of the snooze button. Our shop is a combined wholesale produce company/retail market/deli. I get the market ready for the day, restock all the produce that we put to bed the night before and make a list of what tasks I need to do. I usually misplace the list, and this step is repeated throughout the day. In between, I field phone calls: restaurants with last-minute orders, catering customers who need large quantities of chicken parm and folks who wanna know if we make breakfast sandwiches. Sadly, we do not.

The store opens at 8. A thing I love about this place is our devoted regulars. We're a small shop and I've gotten to know these folks quite well. The rest of the day usually finds me replenishing our supply of prepared foods and snacks. I slice and wrap a lot of watermelon. More phone calls. The occasional wholesale order – these can involve heavy boxes and hand trucks. I like this part of the job – toting a 50 lb sack of potatoes over my shoulder always makes me feel like a bit of a badass. I'm on my feet all day, sometimes 12 hours. I usually don't feel the effects of this until I sit down for dinner. I'm a photographer in my outside life. Most evenings find me in my basement studio crafting dioramas and building worlds.

What made you start doing the amazing things that you do?

Restlessness! I started out as a cashier and wanted to learn more and do more.
As an artist, the need for a creative outlet and also a desire to bring a little magic and weirdness into the world.

Did you complete any training? If not, how did you learn your trade/skill?

Nope! I've always been great at customer service, but as far as the nuts 'n' bolts of my job, it's been a "learn as you go” situation. I'm a self-taught photographer – I can attribute a large amount of my success to simply being willing to experiment. 

A Strictly Indoors Cat(left), Finally Home, by Tara Gorman

What did you want to be when you were growing up, or a little kid?

I wanted to be "an artist" and when I said that, I imagined that would involve drawing or painting. That's what artists did in my mind. I wasn't (and I'm still not!) great at either. Luckily I figured out that just as there are many types of art, there are also many kinds of artists.

Tell us something dirty.

Did you know watermelons can explode? In high summer, those juicy ripe melons can reach a point of no return. Deep inside, ripeness turns to fermentation. Gasses emit and they need somewhere to go – that somewhere is out! It's not uncommon to walk past the melon bin and hear a slight fizzing. That noise is a melon about to blow. The stench is FOUL. Like rotten meat and vinegar and the faintest remembrance of watermelon. I've had to change shirts more than once because of exploding melons.

Feeding Time, one of Tara's miniatures photographs

What do you have to sacrifice to be good at what you do?

So much! To make art, I sacrifice free time and sleep. The day job, I work long shifts – that chips away at the time and sleep as well. Anyone who works in a public-facing job can confirm that you also sacrifice a little of your personality. I'm lucky to be familiar with many of my customers, and therefore I can joke around and be a little casual. But it's a fine line. I still need to be respectful. I want to set a good example for other staff. Basically it boils down to "You better be damn sure you can swear at this customer before you bust out the f-bombs."

What are you great at, and what do you suck at?

I am great at helping people. If I'm working on a catering order, I take a few extra minutes to get to know the people I'm working with. Someone planning a 100th birthday party for their mom will likely have different needs than someone planning a Super Bowl party. I'll teach customers how to pick the perfect pineapple. I keep a list of customers who like certain deli specials and when they're on the menu, I call them.

One of Tara’s entrees.

I suck at organization. That thing where I mentioned losing the to-do list? My co-workers have found them in the walk-in freezer. Behind the soda coolers. In a case of Brussels sprouts. I'm better than I was, but I still need improvement. It's worse at home. I work primarily with miniatures and they are EVERYWHERE. I need to lock myself in the basement for a weekend and get that situation straightened out.

What scares you?

Taking a chance on myself. I'm in my first art show this month and I'm thinking ahead to how I want to handle this art thing going forward. Do I want to sell prints? Do I want to work towards a solo show next year? Do I want to hustle for freelance work? And what will this mean as far as my life in the fruit mines is concerned? 

What do you want people to know about being a woman in your field?

We know how to use hand trucks. We're capable of hoisting those heavy boxes into your truck and you don't have to say "Ooh, strong girl!" when we do it. Some of us even know how to use a pallet jack! I don't, but my co-worker Emilia does.

Tara, with her pockets full of miniatures.

What are the top five things that are always in your pockets?

A black Sharpie. A colorful Sharpie. A ball-point pen. Scissors. A toy animal.

What are you doing when you’re not working hard?

I'm cooking hard! I loooove to cook. I learned how to can last summer. I've made homemade pasta and baked about 10,000 cakes.  Today I came home with a case of Seville oranges – working in the biz has its perks. I'm planning on making marmalade and I have vague plans for an orange-pineapple yogurt cake. In the spring and summer, I do a little gardening. I learned a lot of lessons last year, most important being keep up with weeding or you will be sorry. This year, I'm gonna focus on uncommon herbs, tomatoes, pumpkins and whatever else I impulsively buy at the garden center.

Some of Tara’s cakes.

How do you encourage other women to start doing what you do?

Use your voice. Don't let anyone talk over you. Use your ears. Don't talk over anyone else. Fuck around and find out. Experiment. Try new things. Document the results. Repeat.

If you could give your 20-year-old-self advice, what would it be?

"Just because you're Black doesn't mean you can't get a sunburn."

It was my first beach trip and when the peeling started I thought I was transforming into some kind of monster. Also, “you don't need to have it all figured now. Make plans but leave room for serendipity."

Tara, gardening.

What does workwear designed for women mean to you?

Workwear that actually fits me means I don't have to think about my clothes. I can just go about my day, doing my job and being awesome at it. I can bend and squat and stretch and not worry about gaps or gaping or holes in the inner thighs of my jeans. It's freedom. And your thermal jeans mean I no longer have to wear 2 pairs of pants to work on cold days. Hallelujah!

Follow Tara on Instagram @Your_Waitress.

Dovetail Workwear Disclaimer: We are not the boss of our Women At Work! They say it their way and wear it their way.