Natural Foods Merchandiser

Organic events offer education, networking

It's no secret that there's an abundance of organic food to sample throughout Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, Calif. But this year, one of the first things you can do is eat a delicious, organic meal while supporting a great cause with your donation.

Afterward, though, you can feed your hunger for more social interaction (and more food and drink) at the Fresh Ideas Organic Marketplace tent, a grouping of more than 100 organic tabletops outside the Marriott hotel next to the convention center. This event is Thursday only, from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m. Then feed your mind about organic issues over the next two days at seminars on a variety of cutting-edge topics hosted by industry leaders.

"There are lots of opportunities for people to learn more about organic at Expo and meet the movers and shakers in the organic industry," says Elaine Lipson, New Hope Natural Media director of organic alliances and strategic initiatives. New Hope, the publisher of The Natural Foods Merchandiser, produces Expo West.

But back to the actual eating: A sump?tuous buffet, the Organic Farming Research Foundation Benefit Luncheon, starts at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, March 8. The 10th-anniversary luncheon will be "fun" food in the seasonal farmers' market theme of last year's luncheon, says Don Burgett, development coordinator for OFRF. Tickets are $75, and all funds go to OFRF. Tickets can be purchased on your Expo West registration form or by calling 866.458.4935 or 303.391.1776. For more information about the luncheon, contact OFRF at [email protected] or 831.426.6606.

"It's like a family reunion," Burgett says. "It's a two-hour window of opportunity, and there are some folks who jump right in doing business. You can hop tables or sit down and have an extended conversation with somebody."

While this year's menu wasn't finalized at press time, chefs Donna Prizgintas, who has worked for Hollywood stars like Michelle Pfeiffer and Warren Beatty, and Chris Blobaum, owner of the nearby organic and trendy Wilshire Restaurant, love to dress up classic American foods—salads, soups, desserts and, of course, eclectic sandwiches, Burgett says.

"These are world-class chefs [who] have specialized in working with organic products."
"These are world-class chefs who have specialized in working with organic products. They have done the luncheon every year," Lipson says. "They're extremely generous with their time and creativity."

Burgett remembers helping the chefs open countless 8-ounce cans of organic tomato sauce several years ago. That was when organic products weren't available on such a massive scale, and they had to serve more than 200 people. Last year's event served more than 400.

After lunch, step outside to the Fresh Ideas Organic Marketplace, "a celebration of great organic people and products," Lipson says. The marketplace will host 143 exhibitors this year, its largest number ever, offering samples and information about organic beverages and food, clothing and nonprofit groups.

Thursday night, the Organic Trade Association hosts a buffet dinner from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. at the convention center with meals and desserts from five guest chefs. The dinner, "Celebrating the Bounty of Organic Farms," applauds the work the group does to change public policy. This year, the OTA hopes to bring in even more than the $500,000 raised in 2006 to support its public policy, media relations and consumer outreach work. Contributors to the group's annual fund receive packages of complimentary tickets. Individual tickets are also available at $95 for members and $105 for nonmembers. To buy tickets, contact Lisa Carey at [email protected].

During the following two days, you can learn more about trends in the rapidly changing organic industry. Five seminars on Friday and Saturday bring together industry experts and thought leaders to teach retailers and manufacturers things they need to know to help them advocate for organic foods and farmers, Lipson says.

"It's still a relatively new field of agriculture and food production," Lipson says. "We have standards that are evolving, and more and more mainstream companies that are interested in participating."

All of the organic education seminars will be held in Room 207A of the convention center. "Organic Basics: Core Values and Fundamental Principles," at 10:30 a.m. Friday, serves as an Organics 101 for newcomers, or a refresher course on standards and principles for those already in the industry.

"Organic Issues Forum: Hot Topics" will be at 2:45 p.m. Friday. Themes and speakers for this session covering up-to-the-minute organic issues will be announced soon; check for updates.

For those thinking about getting their store, product or warehouse certified organic, the "Organic Certification Questions? Ask the Experts" seminar will help, at 10:30 a.m. Saturday. A panel of U.S. Department of Agriculture-accredited certifiers and organic inspectors can answer all of your questions.

That's followed by industry veteran and Fresh Ideas Group President Sylvia Tawse discussing her "Top 10 Reasons to Go Organic: Revisited for the 21st Century" at 1 p.m. Saturday. Widely published in the 1990s, Tawse's reasons became a "veritable manifesto for organic advocates," according to seminar organizers.

"Tackling Organic Ingredient and Supply Chain Challenges" looks to the future, as producers figure out how best to meet rapidly growing demand. It's at 2:45 p.m. Saturday in Room 207A.

Beth Potter is a Denver-based freelance writer.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 3/p. 26, 27

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