BALTIMORE, Sept. 22 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Celebrating its strongest growth in membership in five years, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) drew hundreds of members Wednesday evening in Baltimore to its annual Organic Leadership Awards dinner to pay tribute to a group of inspiring organic visionaries who have made extraordinary contributions in advancing the organic sector.
A total of 216 organic farmers and organic businesses have joined OTA in the twelve months since the 2015 awards dinner, spurred by the growing interest at all levels of the supply chain in the booming organic sector, and the need and desire to be a part of a network of engaged organic stakeholders. OTA membership now represents more than 8,500 organic businesses and operations in every state of the union, from small organic producers to major growers, from local family-run organic operations to nationwide companies.
"The Organic Trade Association has much to celebrate," said OTA's CEO and Executive Director Laura Batcha. "We have a really impressive group of new members who will help OTA achieve its mission of promoting and protecting organic. And we are honored to be recognizing an incredible group of award recipients and members this year who have all played a huge role in taking organic to the next level."
Fighting the organic fight and making a difference
In a first for OTA's Organic Leadership Awards, the 2016 Organic Farmer of the Year Award honored not just one farmer, but those making up the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative (TOCMC) —a pioneering group of forward-thinking organic cotton farmers who have helped make the Texas High Plains the largest organic cotton-growing region in the United States.
Jimmy Wedel, President of the TOCMC and member of OTA's Farmers Advisory Council, said that developing the organic cotton industry in Texas has been hard work but well worth it. "We've worked diligently for 23 years to maintain our integrity, be a reliable supplier, develop markets, and help educate consumers on the importance of using U.S. grown organic cotton. We're going to continue that work."
Mike Fata of Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods, a Canadian entrepreneur and hemp foods pioneer, received the Rising Star Award to honor his work advocating for organic hemp and organic in general. Working with farmers for over a decade to encourage transitioning land to become certified organic, Fata thanked OTA and the organic industry for their support, and said, "It takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a world to raise an entrepreneur."
Nebraska farmer David Vetter of Grain Place Foods was given the Growing the Organic Industry Leadership Award for his inspiring and tireless role as a mentor to others in the organic industry. A long-time member of OTA, Vetter was the first organic farmer in Nebraska and for a number of years, the only organic farmer in the state. A true environmentalist, Vetter said that "organic agriculture is an integral part" of his core values of protecting our natural resources.
Every dinner ingredient passes the organic test
The sold-out dinner, which attracted more than 300 OTA members, was held this year at the Columbus Center in Baltimoreas a kick-off event to Natural Products Expo East.
In another milestone at the event, the meal was verified organic by CCOF. This meant that every supplier, every ingredient and every recipe were vetted to ensure organic status. In addition, dinner menus and event signage were reviewed for acceptable organic claims, and the preparation site inspected to verify organic ingredients onsite and in use.
"OTA strives to always offer organic food at its events. This year, we went a step beyond that and added a verification process to ensure it was compliant with national standards, much like OTA member companies do for their own certification," said Batcha, extending a special thanks to CCOF, Mom's Organic Market, and Rouge Fine Catering, as well as sponsors and product donors for helping the trade association accomplish this.
The more than 100 individual ingredients verified organic included produce, dairy, dry goods and meat—ranging from beef tenderloin, coconut cream, and arugula to Swiss cheese and wine.
OTA held the first of a two-day "All Things Organic" conference program at Expo East today. The OTA conference offerings include the most up-to-date picture of the state of the organic industry, and discussions on critical issues impacting the U.S. organic sector.
The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is the membership-based business association for organic agriculture and products in North America. OTA is the leading voice for the organic trade in the United States, representing over 8,500 organic businesses across 50 states. Its members include growers, shippers, processors, certifiers, farmers' associations, distributors, importers, exporters, consultants, retailers and others. OTA's Board of Directors is democratically elected by its members. OTA's mission is to promote and protect ORGANIC with a unifying voice that serves and engages its diverse members from farm to marketplace.
SOURCE Organic Trade Association