By Melody Meyer
I consider myself one of the lucky 800 attendees of the inaugural Organic Grower Summit. From the moment I stepped onto the hotel grounds I knew this was going to be unlike any other organic gathering I had attended.
Towering at the entrance was the most sophisticated tractor I had ever laid eyes on. AGCO’s Challenger Tractor is a serious high-performance piece of equipment and this edifice of new ag-technology embodied the theme of the Summit: organic farmers and service providers are earnest about growing their business.
My friend Mark Lipson, Senior Policy and Program Specialist at OFRF summarized this way: “This summit is a really different slice of the organic industry than you would get at traditional organic conferences. These are working farmers that are highly professionalized and capitalized and I appreciate that they really get the fundamentals and principles, the very ethos of organic… This is the face of organic in a lot of ways,” he said
The Organic Produce Network and CCOF certainly know how to throw a party along with a summit. The opening reception Wednesday evening buzzed with excitement and veritably overflowed with local cracked crab, and fine wine.
As the conversations grew more animated, it was time for 150 of us to saunter into the CCOF Foundation Dinner 2017, Organic Grower Summit to celebrate the growth of the organic industry.
Venerable Secretary of the California Department of Food Agriculture, Karen Ross, addressed the diners recognizing organic as the fastest growing segment of agriculture. It is clear that Secretary Ross understands the importance of organic in the overall Ag picture and CDFA is committed to preserving the integrity of California Certified Organic.
We were treated to moving accounts from students who had received grants from the Future Organic Farmer Grant Fund. This CCOF program acknowledges the epidemic shortage of farmers and supports the next generation of organic producers through small grants that support organic education from kindergarten through the end of college.
The following morning was jam-packed with education, ideas and networking opportunities. After breakfast it was tough deciding which Educational Breakout Session to attend. I landed on the “Issues facing Organic Farmers Today” thinking I probably knew the whole story and left surprised at how much I learned.
Business opportunities dominated the next session’s themes. I was intrigued with “Organic Disruption-Cannabis: the Next Frontier”. In the session we learned that CDFA is required to create an organic cannabis standard by 2021. This rapidly developing area of agriculture holds potential for organic farmers looking for novel business opportunities.
I missed the sessions on “Sustainable Packaging” and “Clean and Renewable Technologies” that presented business solutions to create savings and foster sustainability, but heard they were well attended and impactful.
Throughout the entire day farmers had the opportunity to meet with Costco, renewing commitments or making new business connections. Karen Archipley, from Archie’s Acres, was one of the lucky ones excited about her meeting. “It was great to meet with Costco and to reconnect with others we do business with. We are a small producer and found big value at the show,” she said.
The Keynote Sessions provided much insight into where we are with the USDA, cutting edge supply chains and investment strategies. It was a heady group of speakers from Miles McEvoy, the former Deputy Secretary at AMS/NOP who highlighted the challenges and opportunities in the regulatory realm, to Don Burnett, COO of Sun Basket who had powerful ideas on re-imagining the food supply chain with state-of-the-art technology.
The Grower Roundtable, “From Wall Street to Main Street: Organic Means Good Business” summed up the essence of the Summit; let’s get serious about building organic businesses with investment, collaboration and technology!
Over a delicious lunch I chatted with Carol Holmes the Compliance Director at Concentrated Aloe Corporation. She traveled from Guatemala looking for information to increase soil productivity for her growers. She came away rewarded. “There is a lot of information and products at this show that I cannot get online or from my certifier. You have to keep on doing this, “ she said.
The afternoon exhibitor trade show literally hummed with excitement and activity. There were over 75 service providers and supply chain companies. I was astounded when I walked down the innovative “Tech Alley”. From Parabug whose product releases beneficial insects via drone technology to Pacific Ag Rentals, where farmers can rent AGCO’s mighty Challenger, it’s clear that the innovation in organic is thriving.
The range of exhibitors was impressive, representing the gantlet of providers of seed, packaging, soil amendments, and food safety applications. They all attended to connect with organic field production staff, supply chain managers, pest management advisors, and food safety experts.
This was a dynamic networking event like no other I have witnessed, highlighting innovation and business growth in the organic sector. As one berry grower said “The show is wonderful! I see all the main players and feel like we are bringing the evolution of the organic category to a whole new level.”
If we are to achieve the future goal of getting food from the best organic farms to a wider reach of the American audience, we must build efficient innovative organic businesses.
The Organic Growers Summit is a good step towards building this future.