Organic Grower Summit 2019 Highlights
MONTEREY, CA - Agriculture is a community bound by more than just the act of growing something from the earth’s soil. When we come together for events like the Organic Grower Summit, nowhere else is this fact more obvious. We are a community that spans generations, languages, and borders, and when we gather together, we form a mosaic of the ag community at large—and the mosaic depicted at the third-annual Organic Grower Summit was one rich in advocacy, innovation, and organic ingenuity.
After attending this year’s event, it’s easy to understand why so many cultures view the number three as the luckiest of them all. The third-annual OGS was a verifiable stand-out, with some of the organic sector’s most passionate, knowledgeable, and inventive purveyors transforming Monterey, California, into a drawing board for the industry’s future. From endless opportunities to rub elbows with some of produce’s leading organic growers to exclusive events showcasing the power of produce, OGS 2019 was the perfect industry event to close out 2019—and the decade!
“With the organic fresh food category reaching multi-billion-dollar levels, there has never been a better time to create an intimate and engaging event focusing exclusively on organic farming,” Tonya Antle, Co-Founder and EVP, Organic Produce Network, shared with me. “The Organic Grower Summit creates the opportunity for growers and allied service suppliers to look towards the future while networking and growing their businesses together.”
This year, exhibitors and attendees showcased the best the organic industry has to offer, with 30 states represented at the third-annual event. On the show floor, some of produce’s most important partners showed up and showed out.
“I’m always willing to seek and learn more about California’s thriving organic community. From new and innovative technologies to growing practices, resources, innovations, and networking opportunities—we are appreciative of what the Organic Grower Summit has set out to achieve to benefit our organic farmers,” said Catalino Martinez, COO of Val-Mar Farms.
As the ANUK team meandered through the rows of booths, we saw the latest packaging launches, tech and logistics inventions, and sustainable initiatives that the produce industry as a whole should be proud of.
“It was a tremendous first day at OGS that featured a pair of engaging and highly informative education sessions related to soil health and technology opportunities for the organic community,” Matt Seeley, CEO of the Organic Produce Network, shared with us after the first day of activities. “The sold-out trade show was very active throughout the day, and the opening reception was packed from start to finish. We continue to hear how great the intimacy of OGS is and how the networking opportunities are first rate.”
OGS kicked off its two-day organic de force with mornings chock full of education sessions. Growers like Naturipe Farms, industry advocates like the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, and even retailers like Walmart were all represented on stage Wednesday and Thursday morning. Many of produce’s brightest minds shared their insight on the hottest industry topics—and I for one am driving away from Monterey with a notebook full of takeaways.
“It’s great to have a conference focused on organic farming and the challenges and rewards we all share. We’ve been excited to participate in the first three years and hope the Organic Grower Summit will continue for many years to come,” said Ben Diesl, Grimmway Farms’ Vice President of Quality Assurance.
Tim Borel of Nunes/Foxy/Blanco Farms added, "Each year the OGS improves. This year, I was impressed by the new perspectives brought by attendees from burgeoning organic sectors. As organics continue to grow, we as producers will always need fresh ideas to fill that growth. The OGS is the perfect place to find these new ideas."
Some of the key takeaways from this year’s panel sessions were regarding some of produce’s hot button topics, like food safety and sustainability. Experts across the supply chain discussed solutions with each other and those in attendance, putting into practice two of the most important solutions: education and collaboration. Many touched on how we can share growers’ stories, relaying the hard work our industry’s backbone puts in to meet consumers’ biggest demands like traceability and sustainability and commemorating their accomplishments in going the extra mile until the last mile.
“The Organic Grower Summit is a great event that brings growers together to network, share best practices, and learn from one another in a small, intimate setting. Because we’re all going to be asked to participate, specifically in the area of sustainability, I like that the Organic Produce Network has initiated these panel sessions to stimulate conversation,” Nikki Rodoni, Founder and CEO of Measure to Improve, shared with me following the panel she moderated. “People are very passionate, and these conversations really help us gather the tools, practices, and initiatives to take a proactive approach, so that looking forward, we know what’s coming and how to work with suppliers and vendors to solve these issues.”
One of the most talked about events at this year’s trade show was the exclusive showing of Driscoll’s The Last Harvest documentary. It was a standing-room-only affair at the Monterey Conference Center as everyone moved from the show floor to their film seats. Following the screening, Soren Bjorn, Driscoll’s President of the Americas; Dave Puglia, Incoming CEO of Western Growers Association; Hannah Freeman, Co-Founder and CEO of Ganaz; and Carmen A. Ponce, Tanimura & Antle’s Vice President and General Counsel of Labor, took to the stage to answer attendees’ most pressing questions regarding the labor crisis.
“One of the fastest growing parts of our business is the organic business,” Soren shared with me following the screening. “We’ve always been a company that’s made up of a lot of small farmers, and a lot of small farmers focus on growing organic, so the Organic Grower Summit provides the opportunity to introduce those small farmers to us and us to them. I think that’s what makes this such a great show, along with its focus. OGS is also a great opportunity to talk about some of the big issues facing our industry.”
Closing out this year’s show with a keynote presentation for the books was Titan Bioplastics’ Amy Ansel, Indigo Agriculture’s David Perry, and Beneficial State Bank’s Kat Taylor. Each speaker gave Ted Talk-style presentations that touched on a few of the latest exciting opportunities in the organic sector.
“Where else can you go to get all the organic growers and suppliers in one place to gain insight and education into our industry? OGS continues to impress, and we look forward to growing with it,” highlighted Bart Walker, President of Pacific Ag Rentals.
Monica Casillas, CEO of Ferti-Organic, added, “The Organic Grower Summit is good for us because it is a really focused show. This is the only show we attend. The visitors are really high-end.”
How OGS 2020 will top OGS 2019, I do not know! But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my two years in produce, it’s that the industry is always ready with a surprise up its sleeve. From the looks of the current produce landscape, my money is that next year’s surprise will be robots.
Until then, produce industry family!