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OTA honors 3 organic visionaries

OTA honors 3 organic visionaries

Organic Trade Association announces the winners of its 2014 Organic Leadership Awards. 

A pioneer and tireless teacher of the organic way for more than 40 years, an organic farmer dedicated to making his farming operation a compelling example of a better way to farm, and an environmental engineer who triggered an organic revolution in the mattress and bedding industry will be honored next month by the Organic Trade Association (OTA) for their visionary work that is transforming organic farming and trade.

"These outstanding visionaries have made invaluable contributions to demonstrating how organic practices can change our world for the better," said Laura Batcha, OTA's executive director and CEO. She added, "We are excited to honor these three individuals who were nominated by their peers and chosen unanimously by OTA's Board of Directors."

To be honored September 17 at OTA's 2014 Organic Leadership Awards Celebration in Baltimore will be:

  • Marty Mesh, executive director of Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers, Growing the Organic Industry Award
  • Doug Crabtree, farmer and organic farm trainer, Vilicus Farms, Organic Farmer of the Year Award
  • Barry A. Cik, technical director, Naturepedic Organic Mattresses, Rising Star Award.

Here is a brief look at the honorees:

Growing the Organic Industry Award
Marty Mesh has dedicated more than 40 years to organic agriculture. In 1973, he started growing organic produce and helped start a co-op so that people could purchase organic food. After attending the University of Florida, he founded Bellevue Gardens Organic Farm. For 25 years, working with his hands in the soil, he learned the methods that would later become organic standards. He also worked with other farmers to create a certification program to differentiate organic products in the marketplace. In 1989, he helped form Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers Inc. (FOG), and has served as its executive director since 1995. FOG's certification arm, Quality Certification Services (QCS), now certifies over 900 farm and handling operations in the U.S. and abroad.

Mesh has been involved at all levels—local, regional, national, and international—and in many different efforts—food systems, policy analysis and advocacy, public speaking and training—to transform the food system and grow organic agriculture and the industry. He has served on the Board of Directors for many organizations including The Organic Center and the Accredited Certifiers Association. He also served as a charter board member for the Organic Materials Review Institute, and was on the steering committee that helped form the Southern Sustainable Agricultural Working Group, which has made significant progress toward increasing the viability of farms in the south.

Bu Nygrens, co-owner of Veritable Vegetable who will introduce Mesh for his Award, describes him as a clear thinker and visionary, who also leads others to common ground. "Without consensus among certifiers, without a clear national standard, with the continuous efforts of the Organic Trade Association on which Marty has served as a Board member, the growth of our 'niche market' would not be embraced by mainstream markets and mainstream agriculture as it is today."

Organic Farmer of the Year Award
Growing up on a conventional managed farm in Ohio, Doug Crabtree never imagined he'd be anything else than a farmer. However, over time, he has become not only a passionate advocate of organic farming, but a steward helping others become organic farmers.

Earning a B.S. in Agricultural Economics from Purdue University and a Masters in Plant Science at South Dakota State University, he first worked with an investment firm interested in organic farming. This experience confirmed that organic farming was not just economically viable but also economically advantageous over conventional farming. He subsequently served as an independent organic inspector for five years, gaining perspective on the challenges facing organic farmers, and later joined the Montana Department of Agriculture in 2001 as organic certification manager.

In 2009, he and his wife and partner, Anna Jones-Crabtree, purchased their first organic acreage in northern Hill County, Mont. They chose the name Vilicus Farms (Vilicus in Latin means "steward") for their farming operation. Since then, they have actively farmed while setting up a mentoring apprenticeship program to actively engage new farmers in growing organically, giving them hand-on skills needed to farm successfully.

"Doug has worked tirelessly towards advancing the cause of organic agriculture through his organic land management systems, his work as a producer of organic food, as dedicated policy advocate, and with Anna spearheading the farm's apprenticeship training program. Doug entered farming determined to change the dominant agricultural model, and in everything he does, he strives to provide a compelling example of a better way to farm," says Dag Falck, organic program manager for Nature's Path Organic Foods.

Rising Star Award
As the founder and technical director of Naturepedic Organic Mattresses, Barry A. Cik has a lifelong interest in preserving the environment for all future generations. A professionally trained environmental engineer, Cik combines his passion for improving our quality of life with his technical knowledge.

Horrified to discover the state of the baby mattress industry when he shopped for a crib mattress for a grandchild, Cik was determined to create mattress products that were environmentally safe. Working with his sons, he established Naturepedic in 2003. Since that time, Naturepedic has expanded from a small family business to a nationally known company. Moreover, Cik strongly believes in being certified to the world's most stringent quality and environmental standards, and demonstrates to other companies that such goals are attainable. All Naturepedic mattresses have been certified to meet the highly sought-after Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). Naturepedic this year became the first GOTS certified organic mattress manufacturer to have all of its products attain Level IV certification by the Specialty Sleep Association.

"Organic mattresses and bedding were unheard of ten years ago. Today, they are well accepted, commonplace and coveted. Barry triggered an organic revolution in the bedding and mattress industry through all of his community and political efforts. In fact, the industry will truly never be the same because people now know they have a choice—and their choices matter," says Dale T. Read, President of The Specialty Sleep Association.

Organic Leadership Awards Celebration 
Celebrate with your colleagues and honor these visionaries by attending OTA's Annual Awards Celebration on Sept. 17 at 6:30 p.m. at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, MD. Tickets are now available for purchase online. Purchase early as this event generally sells out.


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