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Natural Products Expo West Road Trip 2017: a pre-trip chat with "farm kid" activist Andrew Pittz

Follow along as an editor and a farmer take a road trip to Expo West—meeting farmers and industry leaders along the way—starting March 3.

Nutrition Business Journal Editor Rick Polito and "farm kid" and agriculture advocate Andrew Pittz will be driving to Natural Products Expo West 2017 in Anaheim, visiting farms and interviewing industry leaders and politicians  to explore the connection between American agriculture and the dietary supplement and functional foods industries. Tune in to newhope.com for live video and updates from the road starting March 3, and get the details on what will be happening below.

The People

A sixth-generation farmer, Andrew Pittz built a network of aronia berry farms in Iowa and pioneered the berry as a functional food and supplement. Pittz has a vision of supplement companies and farmers working together to build a stronger supply chain and stronger economies in rural America.

Rick Polito is an award-winning journalist, New Hope Network content director and editor in chief of Nutrition Business Journal. A former nationally syndicated columnist, Polito believes the natural products industry is a community and has a role to play in creating positive change for the environment, for better health and for a more fair economy.

The route

Day 1: Boulder to Salt Lake City via Wyoming
Day 2: Salt Lake City to Reno, Nevada
Day 3: Reno to Modesto, California
Day 4: Modesto to San Luis Obispo, California
Day 5: San Luis Obispo to Anaheim
Day 6: Expo, bab

The car

A 2014 Ford Focus. License plate: TRIMTAB

The chemistry

Pittz has peformed improv comedy. Polito has peformed standup comedy. Pittz likes country music. Polito doesn’t. Pittz grew up on a farm. Polito grew up in air conditioning. Pittz texts. Polito emails. Pittz’s favorite movie is “Amazing Grace.” Polito’s favorite movie is “Lawrence of Arabia.” Pittz likes a good ale. Polito prefers porters. Pittz planted aronia berries in all 99 Iowa counties. Polito took his dog to a pet psychic seminar. Pittz’s favorite politicians are a pair of Iowa Toms: Senator Tom Harkin and Secretary of Agriculure Tom Vilsack. Polito’s favorite politician is Barack Obama. Pittz’s favorite Beatle is George Harrison because he was in the Traveling Wilbury’s with Bob Dylan. Polito thinks Ringo deserves more credit than he gets. Pittz’s goal at Expo West is to connect with the natural products industry community and enjoy relationship-building conversations. Polito’s goal at Expo West is to drink less than he did last year.

 

The conversation

Polito: A week from now, you and I are going to be driving from Boulder to Expo West in Anaheim. It's 2,000 miles of open highway, some it really boring. What were we thinking?
Pittz: It is a heck of a long drive, but what I think we hope to confirm is that the dietary supplements and functional foods industry is not only an engine for positive health and wellness outcomes, but it is also provides opportunity throughout the value chain, what I like to refer to as a values-added chain. What we need to learn is how can farms, how can rural communities, how can underserved communities benefit from supplying top-line ingredients, grown in the United States, and work with some of the greatest brands in the world, natural products industry brands, to do great things and increase the health and wellness outcomes for America. We have a lot to learn.

Polito: What do you think we can learn from the farmers we meet?
Pittz:  One, because I am a farmer, I love sharing best practices, love to hear that they have fertilizer programs that are organic that work. I would like to hear about their crop rotations and perennial plantings for soil health. I also hope to learn collaboration. What can we engage and how can we engage with people in the industry? Yes, we love our farm. Yes, we love our harvest and producing great product. But how do we connect with the greater industry? From the farms that we have on our itinerary, both big and small, we're going to be able to, hopefully, learn all those things. From field to finish, we should have a pretty good scope.

Polito: What do you think the farmers will learn from us?
Pittz:  One, they're going to learn that we're crazy, because no one in their right mind would do this. But, two, what I'm hoping is that they can see and learn from an organic farmer who has gone from the farmer's market—that's  where I started—and connected with the nutrition industry. I started at my farm and the farmer's market. Now I provide ingredients to all kinds of functional foods. My product's going to nutritional supplements. When I started to work with the dietary supplement industry and even the first time that I went to the United States Senate, I was a little bit, well, a little bit nervous. Maybe we need to improve upon our processes to get more comfortable with doing business in this realm. What I've learned is when you know that people genuinely care and have authenticity, which you do and which NBJ does and which New Hope does, we can have a genuine conversation with these farmers, some of whom might be inspired to ramp up their certifications to USDA certified organic, learn about good manufacturing practices, and what it takes to be able to provide and thrive in the functional food industry.

Polito: What could go wrong?
Pittz:  I don't know how much time you have to transcribe this. Let's just take it for what it is. It could turn into some Charlie Daniels song. I've got kind of longer hair. You're from Boulder. We might have to hightail it out of some of these places. Who knows what's going to happen? When we’re crossing some of these desert stretches, we could have a flat tire and you could be regaling me with some of your stories and I could forget even what we were doing. I mean, this could become a real situation. Also, I have Texas A&M license plate covers. I'm told that in three or four states in the country that's the kind of thing that can get you arrested. There's any number of things that could happen. But the universe willing, hopefully there'll be some sympathetic people along the way that will help us get to our final destination.

Polito: We are going to be conducting phone interviews as we drive. Who do you want to talk to?
Pittz: But in these phone interviews, I think it's going to be a great calibration to what we're seeing in person. But then when we're driving, we can internalize these conversations and kind of bounce them off other industry leaders. Whether they might be other farmers that we can talk to on the road, whether they're other companies that are producing dietary supplements, or whether they're luminaries of the industry such as Mark Blumenthal. This real-time information that we'll be receiving on the road in person. How do we collate that intellectually while we're driving? I hope that we can do that with those conversations.

Polito: What impact do you expect this trip to have?
Pittz:  What I think that needs to happen in our industry and what needs to happen in our country is that people need to say ‘We care.’ People need to feel like we are doing something positive. When you look at the peer research study that says 18 percent of Americans agree with the trajectory of our country, that's not good. We should reverse that trend. In improv comedy you ask yourself the question ‘Why here? Why now? Why am I in this scene? What does this scene represent?’ We have to double down and make that commitment to why here, why now. It's going to help all of us get better at what we do. Hopefully this will make me a better farmer and a better ingredient supplier to the dietary supplement industry. Hopefully this will inspire other farmers to engage in this exciting industry. Hopefully it will inspire other brands to have this sort of collaborative approach and sharing best practices in the industry and really inspire people to be proud of what we do and to make what we do better. I'm hoping it has a ripple effect throughout the entire industry.

Polito: Ok, why this trip? We could drive anywhere, but we’re driving across Wyoming in the winter.
Pittz: I know that Expo West is a great time of year, but it's a very stressful time of year for lots of companies and brands. People put a lot of effort into their new product launching. They put a lot of effort into their follow-up and sometimes, in that, we might lose just how much fun we are actually having. This trip, in addition to being able to glean lots of valuable information and share that with the industry, it also represents a certain amount of having fun with what we do, that we're proud of what we do, and what we do has meaning. Hopefully, we can be a little like, as I like to say, a trim tab, which is a tiny rudder on a bigger rudder that helps steer a ship or an airplane. Hopefully, we can help steer our industry to even a greater transparency and a greater authenticity and Expo is such a great connection for everybody.

Polito: Do we have to listen to country music?
Pittz:  Absolutely.

Polito: What are we going to argue about?
Pittz:  Oh, gosh. What are we going to argue about? One, we'll argue about our music. Rick, who's your favorite musician? Favorite, hands down.

Polito: I'll just say Jimi Hendrix off the top of my head.
Pittz:  I like Jimi Hendrix, but I'm a Bob Dylan guy. I imagine we'll argue over who had a greater contribution to musical history. Jimi Hendrix or Bob Dylan. That argument alone should take us through the state of Wyoming.

Polito: You're a farm kid. What do I need to know about talking to farmers?
Pittz:  I appreciate that question. I think as a farm kid, when you grow up on a farm, the land, it's another part of you. It's another member of your family. It's not just an occupation. When people are talking to farm folk, I think it's important to recognize that and respect that. I think that we take a lot of artistry to our work and are very proud of what we do. Maybe that doesn't always come through in conversation. I think it's very important to recognize and respect and appreciate the level of commitment farmers have to the land and the profession that they represent. But it’s not just the profession that they represent, but the profession that they live.

Polito: This road trip. Is it going to be more “Thelma and Louise” or “National Lampoon's Vacation?”
Pittz:  Probably Thelma and Louise.

Polito: Who gets to be Louise and who gets to Thelma?
Pittz:  We'll decide that on day one. That'll be the first argument. You know what? We'll discuss it on day one, but then we'll let Loren Israelsen be the official arbiter when we see him on day two. That'll be one of the topics that we'll have during our round table in Salt Lake City.

Polito: OK. Do you have any questions for me?
Pittz:  One. Why on Earth did you agree to do this? And, two. How on Earth did you convince New Hope to make this happen?
Polito: Andrew, it's all about you. It's about the chemistry. I think we're about to make history and New Hope wants to be along for the ride.
Pittz:   I love it. I'm looking forward to it and because I appreciate your answer and I appreciate you, we don’t really have to listen to country music.

Polito: Well, there will be some long stretches without any NPR, so be strong, Andrew.
Pittz:  I will.  

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