Organic Grower Summit Shines in Monterey

By Tim Linden T he December Organic Grower Summit, which featured Western Growers as its presenting sponsor, showcased a plethora of WG members throughout the duration of the Monterey, Calif. event. Longtime WG Board Member Vic Smith of JV Smith Companies received the Organic Grower of the Year award, WG President and CEO Dave Puglia and Vice President of Innovation Walt Duflock served as moderators of several dynamic educational sessions and many WG members participated on panels and attended the two-day meeting. In addition, members of the WG community, including residents of the Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology, exhibited at the corresponding trade show. Smith was recognized for his lengthy agricultural career, which has included much innovation in all aspects of farming. He began growing crops for the organic market 25 years ago when the contract grower was asked by Earthbound farms to plant organic spring mix. Western Growers honored Smith’s award during the conference with a VIP reception attended by many of the association’s board members. Smith received his award during the closing keynote presentation that featured Puglia and California shippers Keith Barnard of Mission Produce, Bianca Kaprielian of Fruit World and Mike Valpredo of Country Sweet Produce. The session, which included WG’s Puglia as moderator, was billed as “A Conversation with the Next Generation of Organic Leaders” and did not disappoint. This trio of farmers, each of whom came from longtime farming families, exhibited their passion for agriculture and their

commitment to taking their operations to the next level. Puglia and his panel discussed the challenges of being agriculturalists in California as well as the opportunities in the organic sector. While they agreed that California is a difficult place to conduct business, they also expressed optimism that the future remains bright for California agriculture. Kaprielian noted that specialty varieties are finding favor among a new generation of consumers. The Valpredo operation is focusing on value-added products as well as organic production to stay relevant. Barnard noted that Mission Produce has greatly diversified its production footprint, now operating in nine countries, as a way to mitigate some of the challenges in California. Speaking of the consumer, Kaprielian sees an evolving shopper that is looking

for more transparency, more sustainability, and more accountability in their produce offerings. She added that she doesn’t see the sustainable movement replacing organics. “It’s not an either/or,” she said. “It’s an ‘and’. The consumer wants more.” Barnard also predicted that increased sustainability efforts, and accounting for them, will increase moving forward. He called organics a “lifestyle” choice, but said consumers see sustainability as a “responsibility” and want companies “to do the right thing.” Valpredo would like to see universal sustainability standards adopted by which a company can measure itself. He said USDA certified organic standard greatly increased the sales and production of organic produce, and he sees a sustainability standard having the same positive effect. In discussing how each company tells its

Keynote presentation Next-Gen: A Conversation with the Next Generation of Organic Leaders JANUARY | FEBRUARY 2022 Western Grower & Shipper | www.wga.com 45

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