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Organic Awards Dinner draws hundreds to applaud organic change-makers

Organic Trade Association remembers a pioneer, celebrates three standout leaders, and honors outgoing organic official

Maggie McNeil
(202) 403-8514
(202) 615-7997
Washington , DC
September 15, 2017
) — 

The all-organic banquet was amazing and delicious. Sweet potato latkes, artichoke and chicken roulades, stuffed red peppers with smoked tofu and sprouted quinoa, a chocolate peanut butter avocado mousse for dessert…and more! But the voices and accomplishments of a group of distinguished, dedicated and determined organic innovators and visionaries being honored Wednesday evening by the Organic Trade Association were what made the evening memorable.

“Totally inspiring,” said Laura Batcha, the CEO and Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association. “That’s the only word to describe these exceptional individuals who have been so instrumental in making the organic sector what it is today, and who are working to advance organic further and to improve people’s lives with organic. We were thrilled to celebrate them, and we had a wonderful time doing it.”

The Annual Organic Leadership Awards Celebration – held this year at the American Visionary Arts Museum -- featured a posthumous tribute to longtime organic farmer and pioneer Dave Engel, award presentations to three change-makers: Robert Anderson of Sustainable strategies LLC--Advisors in Food and Agriculture, Peggy Sutton of To Your Health Sprouted Flour, and Phil LaRocca of LaRocca Vineyards, and a special thanks to Miles McEvoy, the outgoing Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program.

“A true pioneer and a true believer” – Tribute to Dave Engel

One of the original seven founding members of the organic dairy cooperative Organic Valley, Dave Engel was remembered in a video presentation introduced by Organic Valley CEO George Siemon.  Engel, a Wisconsin organic dairy farmer who died in March after a courageous battle with brain cancer, was remembered for his work as a pioneer and champion of organic and family farmers – and also for making the only singing testimony in the history of the National Organic Standards Boards public meetings.

“Dave was a true pioneer of the organic industry, and a true believer and a true challenger,” said Siemon, who reminisced that the “wise and witty” farmer could not only recite poetry, but that over the past three decades, played an extremely important and influential role in the development and execution of organic standards and certification.

“Ambassador for organic” -- Growing the Organic Industry, Robert Anderson

Receiving the Growing the Organic Industry Leadership Award, Robert Anderson is an organic trade advisor who has worked for decades to open the global world of organic.

He first became active in organic by operating Walnut Acres Organic Farms, America’s first organic value-added food processor, for 30 years beginning in 1969. A long-time organic pioneer, he was the first chair of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Standards Board. Over his career, he has championed organic standards, helped grow organic businesses, and served domestically and internationally as an ambassador for organic. In policymaking circles, it is invaluable to have him at the table because he knows the organic business from soils to sales.

Bob believes in standards as the cornerstone of the organic marketplace, and told the attendees of the gala, “We all need to be relentless champions of high organic standards. High standards are a tool for assuring the integrity of our products so that consumers can continue to enjoy them with confidence.”

“Sprouted flour power, y’all!”-- Rising Star, Peggy Sutton

Alabama-born-and-raised entrepreneur Peggy Sutton of To Your Health Sprouted Flour received the Rising Star Leadership Award for building a booming business around sprouting organic flours and grains to start a new trend for the organic industry.

An innovator and health-conscious, family-focused home cook before becoming an expert in the field of sprouting organic flours and grains. Peggy resurrected this ancient method in her kitchen in 2005. Today, her business employs over 30 people, 28 of whom reside in Bullock County Alabama, where To Your Health Sprouted Flour is based, in one of the most economically poor counties in the state. The business now sprouts 28 different grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts, and exports its products to 14 countries. Sourcing the grains from Alabama farmers, her company has taken on the challenges of helping long-time conventional farmers transition, creating a market for their organic grains, and compressing costs of businesses by helping farmers sell directly to processors.

Peggy told the crowd: “We are working with several state organizations, universities, and regional farmers…to make organic farming a lucrative career in our state. My business will truly be a “buy local” entity as I can purchase grains grown in my own backyard of Alabama.”

“Beating the codling moth” -- Organic Farmer of the Year, Phil LaRocca

Organic wine grape grower and winemaker Phil LaRocca of LaRocca Vineyards received the Organic Farmer of the Year Leadership Award for his unwavering commitment to organic advocacy and community.

A tireless organic farming advocate and farmer for over 40 years (and just disclosed fact: one-time manager of 1960s and 70s rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival), Phil has deep organic convictions that he puts into practice on his farm, in his winery, and in the wider community.

Phil became the first certified organic apple grower in 1975 – overcoming the destructive orchard pest the codling moth without any chemicals -- and created the first certified non-sulfite wine back when most people said it was not possible to do either. Over the years, LaRocca Vineyards has sold over a million bottles of non-sulfite organic wine, and created an industry space for others to follow.

“I kept thinking if we can walk on the moon, I can beat the codling moth. And I did,” said LaRocca.

“It’s been an honor” – Organic thanks outgoing NOP head, Miles McEvoy

In a late addition to the program, the Organic Trade Association Board honored outgoing long-time leader of the National Organic Program (NOP) Deputy Administrator Miles McEvoy, who recently announced plans to step down from his position at the end of the month and return home to the state of Washington, with an honorary lifetime membership to the Organic Trade Association.

“It’s been an honor” to serve in the position for the past eight years, said McEvoy, who thanked the Organic Trade Association for its steady support during his tenure.

“We’re all in this together,” said McEvoy. “It’s happening all over – the whole world wants organic.”

The evening’s sponsors

Sponsors helping make the event a success were New Hope Network, Organic Valley, DanoneWave, MOM’s Organic Market, UNFI (United Natural Foods), True Organic Products, Nature’s Path Foods, General Mills, KeHE, Driscoll’s Inc., The J.M. Smucker Company, Stonyfield Organic, Gallant International, Ardent Mills, Quality Assurance International, LaRocca Vineyards, and Presence Marketing. Many of these companies contributed organic food ingredients for the event. In addition, each attendee received a gift Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified custom printed tea towel.

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 9,500 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.