Washington D.C., Sept. 24, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Each of the accomplished organic leaders honored by the Organic Trade Association at its annual awards dinner this month followed a unique recipe for success, with one common core ingredient: a clear desire to make the world a better place.

Combine those inspirational recipes with scrumptious organic food, stir in over 200 organic producers and officials from organic businesses and brands of all shapes and sizes who had braved the threats of Hurricane Florence to celebrate organic, and the finished product was another rewarding and delicious Annual Organic Leadership Awards Celebration.

“I am awed every year by the remarkable individuals who we honor, and the stories and accomplishments of our award winners this year are incredibly meaningful and important,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association. “The leadership and vision demonstrated by our winners are an example for all of us in our efforts to promote and protect organic.”

The Annual Organic Leadership Awards Celebration – held this year at the Columbus Center in Baltimore -- featured award presentations to two outstanding individuals and a dynamic couple: Margaret Scoles of the International Organic Inspectors Association, Stephanie and Blake Alexandre of Alexandre Family Farm, and Javier Zamora of JSM Organics.

“A tireless organic educator, advocate, ambassador” – Margaret Scoles

Margaret Scoles, Executive Director of the International Organic Inspectors Association (IOIA), received the Growing the Organic Industry Award.

While her young grandchildren watched from one of the head tables (“One-third of my family is under age five, and you can’t ignore that big a part of your family!” Margaret told attendees), Margaret talked about her journey in organic, starting as an organic inspector in the late 1980s to her current leadership role at IOIA.

"I've trained the second-generation of inspectors, and I'm really proud of that," said Margaret.

“My first inspection was 30 years ago, and I never really looked back. It became my life’s work. It’s an incredible honor for me to have farmers open up their farms to me,” said Margaret.

Margaret, who in 1991 helped found the then-named Independent Organic Inspectors Association, and in 1999 became a training manager and coordinator for the IOIA and subsequently Executive Director, stressed the importance of the inspection process for the organic sector: “Rigorous inspection by competent inspectors is what makes organic organic and keeps organic organic.”

She urged her colleagues in the organic sector to stay focused on the opportunities to do good, and not on internal differences: “We’re too small to fight. We just need to be clear that we’re all in the big fight together…Most of what I know has been from the people I’ve inspected, and I’ve learned that we learn most from the people who say yes when it’s a lot easier to say no.”

“A passionately organic family” -- Blake and Stephanie Alexandre

Blake and Stephanie Alexandre, owners of the organic grass-based Northern California dairy farm known as Alexandre Family Farm, were recognized with the Organic Farmer of the Year Award.

“When Blake and I went organic, we did it as a business decision,” Stephanie said. “We wanted to create this great opportunity for our children.”

The decision to go organic proved a solid one in a multitude of ways for the Alexandres and their five children, said Blake. “We wanted our dairy operation to be a viable operation for our kids and their kids.” Today, all five of the couple’s children contribute to the successful operation of the now four grass-based organic dairies, the organic pastured poultry and egg operation, their organic pastured pork and organic grass-fed beef, and an organic creamery.

Stephanie and Blake both were schooled in high-yield agriculture, so Stephanie recounted that when they became interested in organic, they went to an ACRES USA Eco-Ag Conference to learn more about organic. She said there they listened to “keynote speakers who were doctors, and they were teaching people to go to the farms instead of the pharmacy.”

It was then that the couple began to learn more about personal nutrition and how their farm could contribute to healthier food and healthier people.

“Let’s be a force of good change,” Stephanie told the dinner attendees. “It’s not who’s right but what’s right and what is right is producing cleaner, nutrient-dense food and getting it into the mouths of our babes.”

Blake pledged that the Alexendre family would continue fighting the good fight, and thanked the Organic Trade Association for its role. “OTA, thank you for fighting the fight from the top down. We’re fighting from the bottom up.”

“Strong advocate for beginning farmers” -- Javier Zamora

Javier Zamora, owner of JSM Organics Farm, was honored with the Rising Star Award.

Javier immigrated to the United States in 1986, first working in the restaurant industry in southern California for 20 years before earning his GED at the age of 43, then ultimately studying horticulture and becoming an organic farmer in 2012. Today, as owner of JSM Organics, he farms over 100 acres on California’s Central Coast and produces over 150,000 cases of organic strawberries a year.

Javier said his amazing story of hard work and initiative is, at its roots, an American story: “My story is really simple: it’s that America has been a beautiful country that has allowed me to see and do many wonderful things.”

Calling the organic leadership award “the Oscar of farming,” Javier said one of his key missions now is to educate people about the importance of growing food in a healthy sustainable way. “I want to help people understand how their food is grown and where it comes from … and to make the connection that to continue growing food for many, it has to be sustainable,” he said.

Javier is committed to teaching others, and to creating more organic farmers. “I don’t really want to become big…I want to create more Javiers who can be successful,” said Javier. “Some people out there need a little bit of help to make it happen…Let’s help somebody else. If you only get five hours of sleep like I do, believe me, you’ll go to sleep a lot better because you’re helping someone.”

He counseled his organic friends “to not be divisive…Let’s not fight about who is the biggest organic farmer. Let’s fight about how to make MORE organic farmers.”

The evening’s sponsors

The mouth-watering organic menu included sweet potato latkes, smoked deviled eggs with avocado mousse, grass-fed ground beef empanadas, roasted chicken breast with carrot turmeric ginger sauce, pear bread pudding seasoned with cinnamon, chocolate pots de crème and more.

Sponsors helping to make the event a success were New Hope Network, Organic Valley, MOM’s Organic Market, True Organic Products, UNFI (United Natural Foods), Presence Marketing, Driscoll’s Inc., Danone North America, The J.M. Smucker Company (True Roots/Santa Cruz Organic/R.W. Knudsen Family), Ardent Mills,  Stonyfield Organic, Quality Assurance International, and Gallant International. Many of these companies contributed organic food ingredients for the event. In addition, each attendee received a gift Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified custom-printed tea towel with the event’s “Recipe for Leadership” brand.

 

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 9,500 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.

 

 

Attachments

Maggie McNeil
Organic Trade Association
(202) 403-8514
mmcneil@ota.com