Inspiration & Conversation at CCOF’s 2018 Annual Meeting and Conference

PHOTO: Darrell Wood

We’re still buzzing with inspiration following our CCOF Annual Meeting and Conference in Sacramento on February 23. This year, 175 attendees joined us to explore the factors that have made California a hotbed of organic hotspots activity and discuss ways to encourage the growth of organic hotspots across rural America. Pennsylvania State University Agricultural Economist Dr. Edward Jaenicke’s research on organic hotspots provided inspiration for the discussion at the conference.  
The day of the event began with CCOF’s Annual Meeting, where CCOF Board Chairman Phil LaRocca, along with Executive Director/CEO Cathy Calfo and President of CCOF Certification Services, LLC Jake Lewin, updated folks about the constructive work CCOF is doing to advance organic certification, education and outreach, political advocacy, and promotion. Director of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation Brian Leahy presented on the many challenges facing organic farmers. Leahy emphasized the importance of the department’s work on a science-based approach with strict enforcement to ensure market integrity, saying, “This is a $50 billion industry because people believe in that seal.”  
The Annual Meeting led into the conference portion of the event, consisting of panels covering a wide array of influential factors contributing to the positive phenomenon of organic hotspots, including the roles of business, education, and policy. 
PHOTO: Ted Jankeki
The first panel of the day offered a fascinating insight into a gamut of successful organic business models, from organic specialty crops, to rangeland, to tofu production. Each speaker carried a similar message: prioritizing fair treatment of their ranchers and employees and focusing on re-investing into local environment and economies results in strengthening community. Minh Tsai from Hodo Soy emphasized his superb employee retention rate as a result of treating them with utmost respect. He said, “I try to treat each one of my employees with the respect I give my parents.”
Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Yogurt gave a rousing speech stressing the importance of the Environmental Protection Agency in protecting us beyond the scope of USDA’s capacity. He urged all participants to understand that this is a decisive moment for the organic sector to unify its collective interests, saying, “This is our moment to consolidate our wins and our know-how and push forward.” 
Top leaders in organic higher education spoke about how public institutions are creating socially relevant programs where critical training and research for organic is occurring. Speakers from the University of California, Davis; the Berkeley Food Institute; Santa Rosa Junior College, and California State Polytechnic Institute, San Luis Obispo compared notes from their experiences in agricultural education. 
Sergio Núñez de Arco gave a truly inspiring presentation about the way his business Andean Naturals has helped thousands of Bolivian quinoa farmers growing rise out of poverty. He explained how coordinated cooperative efforts between growers has led to more economic stability and food security for their communities. 
A panel on the voice of organic in policy and with elected officials included former California Secretary of Agriculture A.G. Kawamura, President of the California Farm Bureau Federation Jamie Johansson, General Counsel for Driscoll’s Tom O’Brian, and the Organic Trade Association’ Director of Legislative Affairs and Coalitions Meghan DeBates. Panelists underscored the important effort we must continue to make in connecting farmers with their representatives as an important tool in educating elected officials about organic. As Johansson said, “The biggest challenge we have is farmers willing to get outside the fence, getting more farmers in the capitol.”
Glenda Humiston, Vice President of the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, gave a passionate closing keynote speech where she discussed the impressive scope of programs and alliances that work to strengthen organic businesses and education. She brought to light the discrepancies that call for a change in the way counties are assessed for allocating crucial USDA resources for rural areas in California. 
This year’s event covered a wide spectrum of subject matter in an effort to address the many ways organic helps strengthen our communities and our economy. CCOF is proud to offer a unique venue for our members and the public to learn, connect, and continue strengthening the future of organic. We hope you will join us for our 2019 event in Southern California. Sign up to receive the CCOF Newsletter for updates about the next Annual Meeting and Conference.