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Organic award winners: Inspired and inspiring

Celebration honoring organic leaders at Expo East draws hundreds

Maggie McNeil
(202) 403-8514
Washington , DC
September 17, 2015
) — 
Organic Farmer of the Year Benny McLean says with four generations on the farm, it makes him feel good to see his 12 grandkids work in the soil and learn how healthy food is grown. Growing the Organic Industry recipient Tom Harding says after 30 years advocating for organic, he still feels like he’s just beginning the trek for organic. And Rising Star winner Michael Berger says his commitment to advancing organic and selling healthy fast food to American consumers has never been stronger.

These well-deserved winners of the 2015 Organic Trade Association (OTA) leadership awards brought an enthusiastic crowd to its feet more than once at OTA’s annual awards dinner on Wednesday, held this year at the Port Discovery Children’s Museum in Baltimore as a kick-off event to Natural Products Expo East.

Attendees at this year’s event, who were treated to an all-organic feast, represented the diversity of the organic industry -- organic farmers and ranchers, organic processors and food makers, organic shippers and distributors, organic regulators and the U.S. Senate’s only organic farmer.

Organic farmer and Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, who introduced award winner Harding, said that converting to organic farming in the late 1980’s enabled him to keep his grandfather’s farm: “I am certain that without organic agriculture, and without the [organic] methods to help us be sustainable from a financial and agricultural standpoint, we wouldn’t be on that land today.”

Anne Alonzo, Administrator for the Agricultural Marketing Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said in her introduction of McLean that “it has been a landmark year for the organic sector.” She noted the booming growth in consumer demand for organic, the completion of an important organic trade understanding with Switzerland, and more recognition of organic among policy officials and lawmakers in Washington.

Serving as master of ceremonies for the annual dinner was Dylan Ratigan, award winning journalist formerly with MSNBC and Bloomberg, who left his post as MSNBC anchor in 2013 to help build a hydroponic farm in California that would hire and train veterans to establish their own farms. Ratigan stressed the importance of organic in helping to resolve current risks to soils and water which he said is “at an all-time high.”

OTA concluded the first of a two-day conference program, “All Things Organic,” at Expo East on Thursday. The OTA conference, on Sept 17 and 18, will offer the most up-to-date picture of the state of the organic industry, and discuss critical issues impacting the U.S. organic sector.

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 8,500 organic businesses across 50 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 ORGANIC with a unifying voice that serves and engages its diverse members from farm to marketplace.