GREENFIELD, Mass. (May 25, 2001): More than 1,200 persons took part in All Things Organic™, the Organic Trade Association’s first conference and trade show, held May 17-19 in Austin, TX. Participants represented all aspects of the organic industry, from growers to users and observers, and attended from 20 countries.
"It was a wonderful time for building a strong sense of community," said Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of the Organic Trade Association. As a result of the enthusiastic response to this year’s event, OTA will hold its second conference and trade show May 9-11, 2002 in Austin.
Opening the conference sponsored by United Natural Foods, Inc., journalist Michael Pollan of The New York Times Magazine presented his viewpoints as an organic consumer and enthusiast. Pollan then joined Jesse Singerman of Blooming Prairie Cooperative Warehouse, Bu Nygrens of Veritable Vegetable, Gene Kahn of Small Planet Foods, and Dave DeCou of Organically Grown Company in a panel discussion of "Staying Power—Creative Solutions for Today’s Changing Environment." Much of their discussion centered on how far the industry has come, and how much still lies ahead. Recurring in this and other sessions were discussions of the challenges that remain to safeguard the values of the original organic movement as it attracts larger players, and how the industry can continue to encourage the existence of family farms.
In another session, Kathleen Merrigan, former administrator of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, kept attendees spellbound with an account of her work in Washington on regulations for the organic industry. Merrigan reassured attendees that the final rule adopted by USDA allows for continued changes to improve the organic industry. In an outlook session, Sandy Gooch of Sandy Gooch Enterprises, Michael Funk of United Natural Foods, Robert Quinn of Quinn Farm and Ranch, Michael Crooke of Patagonia, and Mark Retzloff of Horizon Organic Dairy shared their experiences within the organic industry and their visions for its future.
In breakout sessions, speakers and attendees examined what the National Organic Program will mean for different sectors of the industry. They also explored economic directions for the industry, their relationships with regulatory agencies and the media, the influence of international factors, concerns about genetically engineered materials contaminating organic products, and strategies for reaching consumers. Attendees were urged to be actively involved in deliberations by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to continue to help shape the National Organic Program, and were exhorted to submit petitions concerning materials for inclusion on the National List of approved substances.
Meanwhile, keynote speaker and commentator Jim Hightower, who received two standing ovations, told attendees that the organic movement needs to assert its values and build a coalition to take power back as citizens. "Our responsibility is to change the system, and not let the system change us," Hightower urged.
The accompanying trade show was held during the afternoons of Friday, May 18, and Saturday, May 19. It featured 180 booths representing 159 companies from six countries.
In conjunction with All Things Organic™, OTA’s Good Organic Retailing Practices (GORP) training workshop, held Saturday morning, May 19, drew 42 participants. In addition, 23 representatives from 15 companies attended OTA Fiber Council’s (OFC) May 18 workshop "How to Integrate Organic Fiber into Your Product Line." The drapes between booths and the banners at the show were all made from organic fibers.
Meanwhile, 90 attendees took part in a tour of two farms on Thursday afternoon, May 17. One was an urban farm and the other a diverse family farm. Food featured at the conference and trade show events was organically produced.
At its Saturday evening annual dinner and awards ceremony, OTA honored two organic industry leaders. The late Allen B. Shainsky, who helped found Petaluma Poultry, was posthumously named OTA’s 2001 Special Pioneer for his outstanding contributions to the organic industry over his lifetime. In addition, Bill Wolf of Wolf & Associates received OTA’s 2001 Outstanding Individual Achievement Award.
Also at the ceremony, OTA recognized three retailers in its 2001 "Big O" Merchandising Competition Awards at its annual dinner and awards ceremony Saturday evening, May 19. They were: Community Natural Foods of Calgary, Canada, grocery category; Thrifty Foods, based in Saanichton, Canada, produce category; and Bristol Farms of El Segundo, CA, honorary mention for marketing excellence.
Those wishing to obtain audio-tapes of the educational sessions may purchase them by contacting Reliable Communications, Inc., of 1925 Rutland, Suite J., Austin, TX 78758 (phone: 512-834-9492; fax: 512-834-0464).
May 25, 2001
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