Recap and Highlights of the 2021 Organic Grower Summit: Tonya Antle, Matt Seeley, Michael Valpredo, Dave Puglia, Nikki Cossio, Ray Connelly, Denise Junqueiro, and Aaron Fox Comment
MONTEREY, CA - Organic, simply, is good business. With current organic produce dollars topping $9.1 billion, according to Category Partners, there is very little argument against organic being the produce opportunity of the future as well. Here at this week’s Organic Grower Summit (OGS), the Organic Produce Network (OPN), in partnership with Western Growers, galvanized the industry to step onto the front lines where, yes, risk is always at play, but the reward is so much greater.
At OGS 2021, the rubber definitely met the road on bringing organic supply chain and service providers together with farmers and suppliers to generate conversations around how to execute solutions in a highly regulatory environment. Topics that heightened the buzz at the Hyatt Regency Monterey Conference Center ranged from agtech, sustainability, regenerative ag, water, and labor to organic standards, scaling growth, soil health, climate change, and food safety.
The energy was high and the leaders were many, including the amazing Tonya Antle, Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of the Organic Produce Network.
“The OGS trade show floor reaffirmed that the organic fresh food industry is evolving rapidly, with tremendous strides in technology, new biological tools, the latest in packaging and product services—all with the goal of making organic farmers more effective, efficent, and profitable. Yes! Organic means good business,” Tonya shared.
Matt Seeley, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Organic Produce Network, also shared his words with me as he reflected on the event.
“Working with Western Growers, OGS was a great opportunity for growers to connect with so many aspects of organic production,” Matt said. “From agtech to soil management to the latest in equipment, OGS was two days of information and education for today’s organic grower. We are thrilled with the response and feedback from our exhibitors and sponsors.”
The summit kicked off December 1, with a breakfast and educational sessions that covered conversations such as “Building Resilience through Organic Farming Systems” and “SmartFarm: AgTech in the Field” amongst many more. The day continued on with networking and a trade show floor which primed the attendees for an opening reception full of laughter, fresh ideas, and, yes, lots of hugs.
Day two brought attendees more thoughtful insights and ingenuity with a second block of educational sessions. These panels touched on everything from “Are Regenerative and Sustainability Labeling Good for Organics?” to “Growing and Selling in the Mexican Organic Market.”
After industry trailblazers filled our hearts and minds with a wealth of opportunities, we stepped into a presentation for Grower of the Year, where Vic Smith, Chief Executive Officer of JV Smith, was recognized with the prestigious award.
Vic candidly spoke about how much organics have changed since the 90s, how the future is organic and will only increase in necessity, and that our industry is made for those who want to work hard in a dynamic and unique produce world.
After Vic sat down for a Q&A to pick his brain, the morning’s keynote took off with “NEXT-GEN: A Conversation With the Next Generation of Organic Leaders” moderated by Western Growers President and Chief Executive Officer Dave Puglia and featuring Keith Barnard, Senior Vice President of Sales and Sourcing at Mission Produce; Bianca Kaprielian, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Owner of Fruit World; and Michael Valpredo, President and Co-Founder of Country Sweet Produce.
The group touched on the struggles and achievements of family farming, evolving multi-generational perspectives between old and new guards, the impact of CEA on traditional non-indoor farming categories, and how sustainability versus organic can be, as Bianca put it, “an ‘and’ conversation and not an ‘or’ conversation.” The complementary nature of the topics can push both forward instead of pitting one against the other.
Overall, the group was incredibly thankful for the hard work, passion, and drive that a show like OGS inspires.
“Another fantastic show delivered by Tonya, Matt, and the entire OPN team. The buzz was about the new technologies, materials, and advancement for our growing operations. Everyone I visited with was very impressed. We are looking forward to next year!” Michael Valpredo shared.
After the keynote, lunch was served and the trade show floor took it home to wrap the 2021 OGS event.
“The high level of energy and engagement among all those at OGS confirms the vision of Tonya Antle and Matt Seeley. Close to five years ago, they saw the need for a focused gathering of leaders in the organic produce business and have matured this summit to more than meet that need. We are very pleased with our support for the summit and our partnership with Organic Produce Network,” Dave Puglia expressed.
Walking the OGS rooms and hallways over these last two days, many of our friends could not wait to share some of their own thoughts and words on the coveted event.
Nikki Cossio, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Measure to Improve
“Overall, the Organic Grower Summit was a valuable, well-thought-out conference. Networking, seeing old friends, and making new connections has always been my favorite, and this year’s conference was no exception. Each session was insightful and spurred critical thinking about the industry. For example, I’ve noticed how essential it is for this industry to tell its story. If we’re not telling our story, someone else will. Another consistent thread was the intersection between organics and sustainability. The two are very much complementary and shouldn’t be seen as competing. We have to provide education and information to eliminate marketplace confusion for consumers—they don’t have to pick one or the other.
Another big theme was healthy soils. Climate change mitigation is front and center, and it’s not just for this industry. Ultimately, I left the conference inspired and ready to help do our part to help this industry navigate through the many challenges we face. I am proud to be a part of this resilient industry. Through collaboration and innovation, we will overcome our challenges. Thank you to the Organic Produce Network team, the speakers, and Western Growers for your contributions to a successful event.”
Ray Connelly, Vice President, Supplier Strategy, Procurant
“I had a great time at the show. It was so productive and refreshing to connect with our customers again. Some of them we haven’t seen since before the pandemic.
The importance, size, and sophistication of the organic community continue to grow. Being a solutions provider to the providers of organic food has always been a strong focus for our company. We’re so happy to be a part of this industry.”
Aaron Fox, Executive Vice President of Fox Packaging, and President of Fox Solutions
“The energy and positivity of the Organic Grower Summit attendees are impressive. What I look for are outside-the-box thinkers, and their perspective on what they want to see in packaging is invaluable for the direction and growth of our company.”
Denise Junqueiro, Vice President of Marketing and Communications, Mission Produce
“It was great to be with so many growers and hear about where the industry has been and where it’s going. There were some really great insights and takeaways. I am so glad Organic Grower Summit could happen this year.”
Those that find the right formula find the fame. And without events like OGS bringing together the right ingredients, there can be no successful recipe. Without these essential connections, what arrives on the plate will become antiquated and an ode to the past. A huge thank you to OPN, Western Growers, and all of the amazing companies making strides for our fresh produce future!