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Organic Trade Association announces annual leadership award winners

Organic leaders and champions to be honored at Organic Week

Maggie McNeil
May 7, 2024
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The Organic Trade Association is thrilled to recognize six individuals for their outstanding leadership, vision and commitment in advancing the organic movement and making a positive difference on their farms, in their communities, in our climate and environment, and in the lives and diets of millions of people throughout the world.  

The trade association will honor these exemplary men and women with its 2024 Organic Leadership Awards at an official reception on May 14, the opening day of Organic Week (May 14-16) in Washington, D.C. OTA’s leadership awards were established in 1997, and since then OTA annually recognizes a group of exceptional individuals who have been nominated by their peers and chosen unanimously by the association’s Board of Directors. 

The distinguished 2024 Organic Leadership Award Honorees are: 


Organic Lifetime Achievement  

This award is reserved to recognize decades of extraordinary commitment by an individual to the organic industry. The well-deserving recipient of the 2024 Lifetime Achievement Award is George Siemon, the founding CEO of CROPP, the largest organic farmer-owned cooperative in North America, better known as Organic Valley, its bestselling brand. 

In 1988, at the peak of the U.S. farm crisis of the ‘80s, Siemon united a small group of organic family farmers in Southwest Wisconsin to found a new farmer-owned cooperative with a focus on organic agriculture and the mission of keeping famers on their land. Siemon led the co-op for some 30 years as CEO of Organic Valley | CROPP Cooperative, building the business to over $1 billion in sales and over 2,000 farmer members. True to its roots, Organic Valley is still promoting regional and local organic production and distribution that provides a livelihood for thousands of family farmers and brings organic food to millions of consumers around the world. 

He has contributed countless hours and attention to leading organic-centric legislative campaigns, securing research and education resources for the trade, and being a mentor for hundreds of not only aspiring organic farmers but business leaders and activists throughout the organic community.  George Siemon was the face and voice of the small farm organic movement for over three decades – a straightforward approachable CEO and go-to spokesperson for the industry. 

“I have been blessed to have been a part of pioneering the organic trade, and being part of such meaningful work,” says Siemon. “It is a great honor to receive this recognition, and I am humbled knowing how many other people have contributed so greatly to the organic movement. Organic has not only built a great selection of organic products but also has pioneered better methods of production. We can be the change that society needs.” 

Organic Champion  

The Organic Trade Association’s Organic Champion Award recognizes and honors individuals in government who have been supportive of organic agriculture and trade. The esteemed honoree this year is Jenny Lester Moffitt, USDA’s Under Secretary of Marketing and Regulatory Programs, who has worked effectively within the organic community to encourage the sector’s input and consider organic priorities.  

Under Secretary Moffitt grew up on a California Walnut Farm that transitioned to organic in 1989. She worked for the California Department of Food and Agriculture for many years, including serving as Under Secretary from 2018-21. She has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to addressing the challenges faced by organic farmers and producers. Her on-the-farm experience and leadership in both state and federal government have helped build partnerships to strengthen organic agriculture.  

At USDA, Under Secretary Moffitt’s dedicated, knowledgeable, and compassionate leadership has fostered historic support for the National Organic Program, including the Transition to Organic Partnership Program and Organic Market Development Grants, as well as helped enable three key regulatory updates – Origin of Livestock, Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards and Strengthening of Organic Enforcement. 

“As someone who grew up and worked on my family’s organic farm, this award means so much to me. I am honored to be recognized by the Organic Trade Association for the work I’ve done supporting organic agriculture and truly humbled by this acknowledgement,” says Under Secretary Moffitt. “I am proud of our efforts at USDA to advance organic integrity by strengthening organic standards and growing the organic sector through the Organic Transition Initiative. This award is a symbol of the great work we can do when government and the organic community come together.” 

Organic Groundbreaker  

The Organic Groundbreaker Leadership Award honors trade association members who have dedicated their careers to advancing organic agriculture and trade by providing vision, innovative creations and solutions, and the work and leadership that makes dreams a reality. This year’s winner, Mac Ehrhardt, chairman of Albert Lea Seed – inspired by his family’s love of nature – recognized the promise of organic agriculture more then 30 years ago and, working with his brother Tom, led the transformation of his granddad and dad’s seed company into the nation’s largest organic field seed supplier.  

Founded in 1923 by Lou Ehrhardt, the Minnesota-based Albert Lea Seed has been owned and operated by the Ehrhardt family for three generations, earning its first USDA organic certification in 1996. In 2022, the company purchased Blue River Organic Seed, to form the strongest lineup of organic field seed in the U.S. In 2023 Ehrhardt spearheaded another initiative aimed at serving organic farmers by investing in an independent corn breeding program focused on the needs of organic farms.  

“I believe that the demand for organically raised food will continue to grow,” says Ehrhardt. “But we must actively work to encourage that growth by strengthening consumer confidence in the Organic label; addressing the issue of gene-editing from both a scientific and a consumer perspective; and reducing the carbon footprint of organic farming practices.” 

Ehrhardt’s advice to future organic groundbreakers: “Work hard. Be nice to people. Keep an open mind. Be honest and own your mistakes. And to steal a line from Practical Farmers of Iowa, ‘Make your experiments small enough that you can afford to fail.’” 

Organic Farmer of the Year 

The Organic Farmer of the Year Leadership Award honors individuals who have significantly contributed to supporting and advancing organic agriculture and trade at the farm level. Receiving that honor this year is Larry Santos, Senior Farm Manager for Taylor Farming, grower and supplier of vegetables to Taylor Farms and Earthbound Farm (owned by Taylor Farms). Santos successfully oversees 3,000 organic acres, working with four experienced organic farm managers to produce more than 30 different vegetable and high-quality tender leaf crops in the Salinas Valley.   

Santos’s deep farming roots date back to when he was a young teenager in South Monterey County of California, and his involvement in organic farming to 1995 when organic was still a trendy niche and organic farming a relatively unknown practice. Santos was in his early 20s and working on a piece of land in the Salinas Valley that had not been farmed for 15 years; he encouraged his boss to give this “new, experimental” growing method a try, and the farm was transitioned to certified organic by 1998. What started as 200 acres is now a bountiful 600-acre organic farm and one of the most productive organic farms in the Valley. Santos still manages that farm, planting three crop rotations per year and producing 1,800 organic crop-acres a year from the 600 acres. Santos also helps educate the local school kids on how to grow healthy organic vegetables; he works with his community's elementary school in an after-school program in which 14 students are each tending their own organic garden box and growing organic spinach, broccoli, radishes and more.   

“Trust and integrity are crucial to the success of organic. We’re only using this earth for a little while, so we want to make sure it’s there for the next generation,” says Santos. “Organic is the safest thing for our planet today and a way to give back. We have to give back to our soil to protect it for our children and their children's children. Plus organic is the tastiest produce you can buy!”   

Santos is optimistic about organic: “I see more non-organic farmers adopting more organic methods, and I see a really big demand for organic with future generations. I believe as people get more educated about environmental issues and organic's benefits, there will be more pressure for organic."  

Organic Climate Action  

The Organic Climate Action Leadership Award recognizes individuals who have demonstrated exemplary leadership in advancing organic solutions to mitigate climate change. This year’s award goes to Renaud des Rosiers, Director of Sustainability for Amy’s Kitchen, who committed early on in his career to strive towards a sustainable world through the power of business and has for almost a decade directed sustainability efforts for Amy’s, the largest provider of organic prepared foods in the nation.  

For the past 20 years, des Rosiers has been working within the organic industry helping companies implement sustainability and climate strategies. Through his work on sustainable supply chains and packaging at Amy’s, Renaud has worked collaboratively with a broad group of organic companies over the years to broaden the collective understanding of sustainability issues in the organic sector. He is active in advocacy and policy work to drive the development of biobased compostable materials as an alternative to conventional fossil plastic packaging and has created a replicable framework for smaller organic companies to cost effectively bring renewable energy into their supply chains.  

“Overhauling the modern food system for the better is a foundational element of our transition to a sustainable future, and the organic movement has done more to drive that transition than any other idea,” says des Rosiers.  

des Rosiers sees an important role for organic in the future: “Impact is driven by scale and I look forward to an increased role for organic—one that meets evolving social needs, adapts to scientific advances, and unlocks broader markets while staying grounded in its core principles—to inspire the next generation of farmers and be accessible to an ever wider group of eaters.” 

Social Impact  

The Social Impact Leadership Award honors individuals who have made outstanding efforts to be a source of positivity and stability for customers and organic community members. The winner of this year’s award is Jyoti Stephens, Vice President of Mission and Strategy for Nature’s Path, who grew up listening to her parents – organic pioneers Arran and Ratan Stephens and founders of Nature’s Path – talk about the importance of growing food the healthy way and of contributing to the betterment of our communities and our planet.  

Stephens has launched and oversees multiple initiatives at Nature’s Path to make organic food more accessible to more people. She oversees the Gardens for Good program, which, since its beginning in 2010, has donated more than $500,000 and supported over 60 community organic garden projects to nourish local communities, and the Eat Well Do Good initiative, which provides healthy, organic food to those in need through annual community “foodraisers,” raising over $2.8 million in cash and organic food to date. Her team coordinates the Love Crunch Bite4Bite program, which donates a minimum of $2 million worth of organic food to food banks annually. Stephens is the executive sponsor of Nature’s Path Sustainability and Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (J.E.D.I.) mission and is leading the development of goals around culture, consumers, and community to embed J.E.D.I. across the business.   

“This amazing award is not just for me but for the foundational legacy of sustainability and organic advocacy that my family and the team members at Nature’s Path have built and pursued over the last 40 years,” says Stephen. “It serves as a reminder of the positive impact we can have when we hold ourselves accountable to a collective sense of responsibility.” 

Her advice for individuals and businesses wanting to make a positive impact: “Start with a clear vision and values, build alliances, share knowledge, and engage with your community,” she says. “And never underestimate the importance of perseverance. Despite the challenges, resilience and dedication can lead to meaningful change to create a more just and equitable food movement.”