Current Size: 120%

Search form

Home > News > Press Releases > Two organic leaders to receive Organic Trade Association’s highest honor

Two organic leaders to receive Organic Trade Association’s highest honor

Barbara Haumann
(802) 275-3820
Brattleboro , VT
July 12, 2012
) — 

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) has selected Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farm and Zea Sonnabend of CCOF to receive its prestigious Organic Leadership Awards for 2012. The awards, presented annually since 1997 during OTA’s Awards Gala, recognize outstanding individuals who have shown leadership and vision in furthering the goals of the organic movement.

Hirshberg will receive the OTA Leadership Award for Growing the Organic Industry, while Sonnabend will receive the OTA Leadership Award for Growing Organic Agriculture. Nominated by their peers, they were chosen unanimously by OTA’s Board of Directors from among many impressive candidates.

“Both Gary Hirshberg and Zea Sonnabend have had a long commitment to organic. Gary, who has been the engine behind Stonyfield’s leadership in the sector, has become a leading voice, advocate and ambassador for organic. Zea, meanwhile, has been involved in the organic farming movement in California and across the country since the late 1970s, and, among other achievements, helped give birth to the organic materials review process,” said Christine Bushway, OTA’s Executive Director and CEO.

Co-founder and currently chairman of Stonyfield Farm, Hirshberg has seen the company grow from a seven-cow organic farming school in 1983 to $360 million in annual sales keeping hundreds of organic farmers in business and over 200,000 acres managed using organic practices. The company has also become a model for socially and environmentally responsible businesses, establishing a “Profits for the Planet” program that commits $2 million of its yearly profits to efforts that help protect and restore the Earth. In fact, through this program, Stonyfield was the lead donor in establishing the University of New Hampshire Organic Dairy Research Farm, the first of its kind at a land-grant university.

Hirshberg also was instrumental in the creation of Organic Voices, the parent organization behind the Just Label It campaign which he chairs. Other activities include his appointment by the Obama Administration to the Advisory Committee for Trade and Policy Negotiations; his position as a co-chair of the food and agriculture policy effort AGree; his ongoing support for organic research; and his role in advancing the discussion of the organic cause in Washington by arranging a meeting of key organic industry leaders with President Obama.

“Gary’s commitment to the organic industry is unmatched,” said Michael Funk, founder and chairman of the Board at UNFI. “He has been an unwavering source of wise counsel, a dedicated volunteer, a tireless advocate, and an unmatched leader.”

Sonnabend, meanwhile, has been a policy specialist for CCOF since 1997, and is an organic farm inspector. After completing a Masters degree in Plant Breeding at Cornell University, she came to California and first worked as the produce manager in a food co-op and served as an organic gardening teacher. She and partners subsequently started Circle I Farm in Los Molinos, CA, which joined CCOF in 1982. Two years later, Sonnabend joined CCOF’s Board of Directors as a farmer member.

Serving on CCOF’s Standards Committee in 1985, she helped develop CCOF’s first handbook and certification requirements, helping lay the foundation for national organic standards. She also pioneered CCOF’s Brand Name Product review, which allowed generic and formulated products to be reviewed and permitted in organic farming. She went on to serve on the technical committee of OTA’s precursor, the Organic Foods Production Association of North America.

Also on the national front, Sonnabend helped guide the early National Organic Standards Board through its materials review process, serving directly for USDA’s National Organic Program from 1994 to 1996 as coordinator of the first Technical Advisory Panel that resulted in more than 160 materials being reviewed for the National List in only three years. In 1996, when it became apparent that a national version of a brand name review for formulated products was needed to serve the growing organic industry, Sonnabend became a founding member of the Organic Materials Review Institute, established in 1997. Serving on OMRI’s Board of Directors for six years, she continues to play key roles on the OMRI Crops Review Panel and Advisory Council. In 1993, she joined what is today the Ecological Farming Association, and went on to lead the Ecological Farming (EcoFarm) Conference to 2008, successfully promoting organic and sustainable farming among continuing and new farmers.

“Zea has played a key role in growing organic. She has worked the fields, analyzed the inputs, inspected farms, advocated for farmers, and told it like it is to regulators and policymakers. But, more importantly, she has generously shared with all of us her passion for ensuring the integrity of organic products, and, in doing so, she has helped our movement to grow and to thrive,” said Cathy Calfo, Executive Director of CCOF.

Hirshberg and Sonnabend will accept their awards during OTA’s Annual Awards Gala to be held Wednesday, Sept. 19, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, MD. Tickets are available for purchase online or by contacting Amy Bovaird.


The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is the membership-based business association for organic agriculture and products in North America. OTA is the leading voice for the organic trade in the United States, representing over 6,500 organic businesses across 49 states. Its members include growers, shippers, processors, certifiers, farmers' associations, distributors, importers, exporters, consultants, retailers and others. OTA’s Board of Directors is democratically elected by its members. OTA's mission is to promote and protect the growth of organic trade to benefit the environment, farmers, the public and the economy.