On Thursday, Oct. 11, four special women will be honored for their long-standing commitments to the organic community. New Hope Natural Media and the Organic Trade Association will present the first "Spirit of Organic" awards at this year's Natural Products Expo East, in Washington, D.C.
"The award is a long overdue recognition of women in organic businesses and particularly of these four women who have provided leadership, energy and staying power," Katherine DiMatteo, OTA's executive director, says. "Bravo."
Mary Jane Evans, Yvonne Frost, Elizabeth Henderson and Jesse Singerman will be the guests of honor at the awards dinner, which will feature organic wines paired with a menu of elegant organic cuisine created by Nora Poullion, owner of Nora's, the country's only certified-organic restaurant.
The Organic Farming Research Foundation, International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, Organic Materials Review Institute, and Organic Alliance—each a beneficiary of proceeds from the dinner—were asked to nominate a woman they thought most stood out with respect to preserving organic integrity, selflessly helping the organic industry and demonstrating organic values in her own life. Here's a brief look at each group's nominee.
Mary Jane Evans
"Mary Jane is both a very practical and forward-thinking person with a lot of vision," says Ron Rosmann, president of the OFRF board of directors, on which Evans serves as treasurer. As general manager and CEO of Veritable Vegetable Inc., an organic-produce distributor based in San Francisco, Calif., Evans is involved with all aspects of the business, from bookkeeping to truck driving.
"There are numerous women who have made important contributions to this movement, and I am proud to be counted among them," Evans says. "Women's ability to be cooperative problem solvers and to get things done and remain good humored through it all is the vital force that makes the organic industry what it is today."
"Organics to me was not a business, it was a philosophy," says Frost, a longtime resident of Oregon and OMRI's choice for the award. "I followed that philosophy so my grandchildren wouldn't have to grow up wearing yellow plastic suits and respirators in the fields," she says. Frost's merits include serving for five years as the executive director of Oregon Tilth and 13 years as its certification director. "When we first started [Oregon Tilth], we charged $5 for certification—just enough to cover the cost of gas," she recalls. Today, Frost is a partner in a consulting company called Simple Organic Solutions, which helps conventional and natural foods companies develop products for the organic marketplace.
"I had been living in the city, but I wanted to live more simply—more lightly on the Earth—and to live in a way that was in concert with my opinions," says Henderson, describing her decision to leave her job as a university teacher and begin farming in the country in the early '80s. But her work as an educator continued; she is the author of numerous articles on organic farming and sustainable agriculture, as well as the co-author of the book The Real Dirt: Farmers Tell About Organic and Low-Input Practices in the Northeast (SARE, Rodale, 1994) and A Food Book for a Sustainable Harvest (Tennessee Valley Organic Community Supported Agriculture, 1994). In addition to farming and writing, Henderson is a founding member of the Northeast Organic Farming Association in Massachusetts, a member of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coordination Council, and a guest speaker for IFOAM, which nominated her for the award.
"Jesse was chosen because of her commitment to both the organic and cooperative communities," says Kevin Edberg, executive director of Cooperative Development Services, the parent organization of Organic Alliance, which selected her for the award.
"I'm honored to contribute my energies to support a sustainable future for agriculture and healthy lifestyles," says Singerman, who started working for Blooming Prairie Warehouse in Iowa City, Iowa, in 1981. Since 1985, Singerman has served as president and CEO of the distributor, whose annual sales have grown from $3 million to $113 million today. "We're delighted that we've been able to bring organic products to more and more people," she says.
"We are truly honored to pay homage to these unsung heroes of the organic community and movement," says Scott Silverman, organic program manager at New Hope. "We hope they will inspire a new generation of leaders."
The Spirit of Organic Awards will be the culminating event of Organic Day. The awards dinner will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. To register for the dinner, call 866.458.4935, or go to www.naturalproductexpo.com.
Steve Taormina is a freelance writer based in Nederland, Colo.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXII/number 10/p. 18, 23