Expo East – Braving the Storm

By Tim Schultz, Vice President of Research & Development for Lundberg Family Farms and OFRF Board Member

This year’s Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore began with a flurry of excitement as Hurricane Florence headed for the Southeast Coast of the United States. Early in the week, the Governor of Maryland declared a state of emergency in anticipation of potentially devastating wind, rain, and storm surge. By the time the show opened, it was pretty clear the storm and its horrendous damage, would be focused much further south, and the show continued on, though many registrants decided not to brave the elements.

Wednesday started with a big statement from the Organic Trade Association, which placed a full page ad in the Wall Street Journal, listing all of the prohibited chemicals in the National Organic Program. This was in response to many false and misleading articles and editorials about the state of organic in the US. It was a bold move by OTA, and generated quite the buzz at the show.

Wednesday afternoon, the Harvest Festival, got into full swing on the terrace of the Baltimore Convention Center, with many companies exhibiting their latest and greatest organic products, and a few organizations, like OFRF, sharing its work to advance organic farming. I was joined by Stephanie Henry at the OFRF booth, and shared the work being done by OFRF, as well as the excellent literature we publish. There was a lot of enthusiasm for OFRF’s Soil Health Webinar Series expressed by folks who stopped by the booth, and great appreciation for the Soil Health Guidebooks OFRF has published.

Wednesday night was topped off with the OTA Awards Dinner, recognizing some distinguished organic leaders, including Margaret Scoles, Javier Zamora, and Stephanie and Blake Alexandre. The stories they shared reminded me of why I love this industry, how committed its participants are to making a better world, and the shared passion so many folks have in expanding the reach of organic.

The formal show kicked off Thursday morning, and the halls were buzzing with excitement. Lots of great educational tracks were available to participants. CCOF had a luncheon for its Foundation that supports beginning organic farmers, and we were treated to another heartfelt story from one of its scholarship recipients, Shannon Good, who shared how the grant is helping her dream of having an organic dairy come true. It is really inspirational to see the remarkable young people coming up who will take on the continued expansion of organic in the years ahead. Thursday evening was a fun time to contribute to another good cause, the Organic PAC, with an awesome R&B band, Affirmative Groove, providing an outstanding sound track for the participants to enjoy. Lots of good dancing by all, including Miles McEvoy showing us his best moves! The event set a record for attendance, and had an excellent representation of twenty-somethings!!

Friday morning, I had the privilege of staffing OFRF’s table outside of the morning’s keynote presentations, along with six other not-for-profit organizations. Lots of talented and passionate people are contributing to the organic movement, from research to certification to supporting new farmers, and I was proud to be able to represent OFRF in that line-up.

By Friday, it was clear that the theme of “hot products” at the show was hemp, and all things related to it. Senator McConnell (R-KY) seems to have become quite the advocate for hemp farming, and if the number of products featuring some hemp derivative was any indication, there should be quite a demand for organic hemp in the years to come. Always good to see more crops coming online for American farmers, to help diversify their options and make farming more viable.

The show wrapped-up on Saturday, and while attendance was down, enthusiasm was high, as was optimism for the future of organic. The next Expo East show will be in Baltimore September 12-14, 2019, and then the following year, in Philadelphia, as the Baltimore Convention Center will be closed for a much needed renovation. I’m looking forward to seeing my organic friends and colleagues again in March at the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, and joining OFRF with its annual fund raising luncheon to kick off the show.”

Ed. Note: Congratulations to Tim for winning OTA’s 2018 Member of the Year award! All of us at OFRF are honored to have the opportunity to work with such a fantastic champion of organic agriculture.