Abra-Cadabra: Disappearing Food Waste in the Supply Chain

Reducing food waste throughout the food supply chain is a red hot topic. It is seen as a path to efficiencies, bottom line savings, and climate mitigation.

Business and non-profits alike have been partnering in efforts to reduce food waste. But what impact are these new models and partnerships really having on food waste reduction? Are they providing access to healthy and organic food to people who otherwise wouldn’t have it? Can government policy work with a re-think on how our food supply chain is managed to have a bigger impact?

Abra-Kadabra examines these and other questions with a panel of businesses and non-profits that are dedicated wholly or in part to reducing food waste in the supply chain. Speakers represent wholesalers of “imperfect” produce who sell produce that would otherwise “be wasted,” a large-scale composter that collects compostable food materials from a regional community, and the Oregon Food Bank, who partners with dozens of organizations as a destination for food that would otherwise expire or be thrown out. Presenters will explain how their business models work, what sparked their food waste reduction collaborations, and the results seen to date. After learning about their businesses, the challenges they still face will be examined in a brief panel discussion before opening up discussion to the audience.


Are We F*@!ed?: Pursuing the Organic Vision in Today’s Market

This panel discussion aims to tackle concerns emerging from the success and growth of the organic trade. What happens when mainstream, conventionally-operated companies enter the organic sector and apply their standard rules of marketplace engagement? What are potential unintended consequences of shifts in marketplace practices and power? Are there limits to the organic trade as a market-based mechanism that fuels the pursuit of an evolving definition and practice of "good, clean and fair" agri-culture? Or is there still an opportunity for culture shift and transformative change as the trade continues to scale? Panelists will share diverse perspectives based on their long-term experience in the organic movement to discuss where we’ve been, where we are now and what the future might hold.


Assessing Soil Health

While organic farmers have long known that healthy soils provide a wide range of benefits—reducing runoff and erosion, improving water storage and available water for plants, storing carbon, and cycling nutrients—the ability to evaluate the current state of soils has been limited. Traditional soil tests provide limited answers on soil fertility. Producers often rely on experience and intuition to determine the health of their soil. This approach can be inadequate for evaluating production decisions, organic certification, and food retails and manufactures trying to tell a story about their products. Join this workshop to learn about USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) tools to evaluate the health of soil. We’ll show you how to use a practical in-field soil health assessment tool that provides quick results that are useful, usable and don’t require lab tests. To demonstrate the approach, we will bring the farmer and field (virtually) into the classroom.


Closing the gap in plant breeding: bringing retailers, distributors, and processors into seed conversations.

The traits or qualities bred into our seeds determine the viability of our farms and quality of our food products. Plant breeding also holds the potential to reflect the core values of the organic community – food that delivers flavor, nutrition, diversity, robustness, resilience and integrity. A growing movement of plant breeders, farmers and chefs are building a community approach to breeding in and for organic systems, but the middle of the supply chain is still largely missing from the conversation. Organic produce retailers, processors, distributors and others in the trade are directly affected by plant breeding decisions and they are also the first line of communication with organic eaters. This workshop will share stories and engage participants in discussions about how to bridge the gap between plant breeders and eaters to include those who handle, move and sell organic products. The goal is not only to build a broader community to harness the power of organic plant breeding, but also to raise awareness among organic buyers and eaters of the importance of supporting organic seeds and breeds.


Conservation for Profitability

Cover cropping, buffers, soil building, and other conservation practices can enhance nutrients, increase moisture, slow erosion, improve soil, control pests, and otherwise improve farm ecology. These “regenerative” practices are not only the cornerstone of organic farming, but also essential strategies for resilience amid a changing climate and extreme weather events. Researchers have also begun to quantify their economic impact on the farm: increased yields, lower nutrient input requirements, reduced time and fuel costs, even season extension and additional crops to sell.


Farm Bill & Organic Policy in 2019

Federal policy plays a critical role in supporting organic production systems, and with the process underway for enacting and implementing a new farm bill, now is the time to focus in on how to defend and strengthen key programs and policies that benefit organic producers. Additionally, transitioning to organic production remains a key barrier to meet the expanding organic demand, and now is the time to identify policy opportunities to address this gap. This workshop will provide an update from Washington, DC on the 2018-19 Farm Bill process, and dig into policies ranging from working lands conservation and crop insurance to research, certification cost share, and enhanced enforcement against fraudulent organic imports.  Policy experts will provide an update regarding the long and winding path to the 2018-19 farm bill. Come learn about key strategies and opportunities for grassroots outreach to engage and mobilize around critical organic wins as the farm bill process moves forward (or, as we work to implement the 2018 farm bill). In addition to digging into the specific programs that matter for organic producers, if the 2018 Farm Bill has not yet been passed, we will walk through the “marker bills” that have been introduced to advance critical organic priorities. Finally, the 116th Congress will be in place in early 2019, so this workshop will also cover the new and returning members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, with an eye to members of the Organic Caucus who will be instrumental for championing our organic priorities throughout the farm bill writing and implementation process. This workshop will also involve feedback from the audience regarding policy needs and options. sell.


Farmers Reflect on On-Farm Research

A roundtable discussion on on-farm research. Collaborative on-farm research is growing as an important means to connect science and practice in organic agriculture and improve the relevance and applicability of research results. Farmers will share challenges, benefits, and results; researchers will contribute their experience; and the group will discuss ways to strengthen the practice and grow the impact of collaborative organic research. Key topics include: What’s important for effective on-farm research trials? How do farmers integrate research tasks into their farm operations? And how do they use the results? What do farmers think their research partners could do better?


Ferreting out Fraud and Securing Future Supplies

An exploration of the tools and technologies to verify organic integrity throughout an increasingly complex supply chain. Speakers will discuss a variety of available and emerging mechanisms, including Blockchain, organic approved fumigation, and upgrades to electronic organic certificate management.


How should the organic community respond to modern breeding techniques?

With a growing understanding of genetics, new technologies are changing our ability to develop new plant varieties. These techniques challenge the organic community to determine which methods are in line with organic principles and which should be excluded. Claims that newer techniques, such as gene editing, should be allowed in organic agriculture have been met with skepticism. This panel discussion will explain techniques being discussed here in the US and internationally in the context of organic regulations. Panelists will represent diverse viewpoints on modern technologies in order to present pro and con arguments. Conference participants are encouraged weigh in with their own questions and perspectives.


A Better Future for the Organic Trade: Differentiation in the Age of Consolidation

The organic trade is changing significantly as larger retailers require greater volumes and lower price points as they take organic further into the mainstream. In some cases, national chains are closing regional buying offices and reducing transactions with regional suppliers; in others they are dropping long-time organic farmers in order to support the transition of conventional producers who will provide them both conventional and organic product in one stop loadings. Despite providing the volume and integrity required for market growth to date, there are loads of highly experienced organic growers working small and mid-sized ecologically balanced farms that will not fit into this “go big or go home” model. As this historic production base is sidelined, it provides challenge for the natural foods distributors and retailers to focus on the growers who got us here and who are required in order to move the “organic and beyond” agenda forward. Independent retailers play a big role in this by giving a market place to these producers, and differentiating the shopping experience for their customers. Independent wholesalers are crucial in connecting and moving food between these small and mid-sized growers and the independent retailers. This workshop will explore how a handful or successful retailers and wholesalers are differentiating themselves from their competitors What are some best practices? What are some strategies that are often overlooked that help sell the true value of your products? In what ways do the small and mid-size grower/distributor/retailer need to bind together to overcome this challenging phase of our organic food movement?


People Management on the Farm

In addition to being skilled at growing crops and raising livestock, marketing, and managing your books, running a successful farm business also depends on being an effective people manager. This workshop will help you develop the leadership skills necessary to keep your employees engaged and motivated. We will focus on two vital management skills for creating a work place where employees are productive and satisified - setting expectations and providing feedback. This workshop will be geared towards farm business owners and managers but the concepts that are covered will be applicable to businesses across the organic supply chain.


Private Sector Solutions to Increasing Organic Seed Usage

Tremendous strides have been made in the past decade to increase the availability of organic seed and planting stock, yet greater improvement is needed. Ongoing efforts include improving the regulatory framework to strengthen and clarify organic seed requirements as well as increased investments in research, education, and resources that help collect data on organic seed availability. While much of the problem-solving work is focused in the areas of research, education, and policy, the critical role of the private sector can't be overlooked. This interactive workshop explores private sector solutions to increasing organic seed usage by further developing the relationship and commitment between organic food processors, growers, and seed providers. The panel includes an organic seed provider, organic certifier, policy expert, and plant stock breeder and former organic food distributor. Much of the session will be left for discussion and problem solving.


A for Effort: Are Our Sustainable Packaging Efforts Creating a Positive Impact?

The search for sustainable food packaging that protects the environment, product integrity, and a company’s financial bottom line is ongoing. Join this SFTA session to learn from a panel of experts and organic food companies who will discuss sustainable packaging trends in the organic food trade. They will debate how these trends may hit- or miss- the mark, and identify potential solutions to improve sustainable packaging efforts in the future. A for Effort frames the discussion with a description of life-cycle thinking as it relates to packaging— providing context for what sustainable packaging means and how to judge its sustainability. Then, packaging manufacturer Elk Packaging will demonstrate the types of sustainable packaging trends we are seeing in the organic trade, including but not limited to flexible packaging, eco-packs (for produce), and compostable materials. After this introduction, the session switches to its panel, which includes panelists from organic food sectors in the manufacturing, food retail, and produce distribution sectors. Panelists will speak to the challenges and successes they have had working with key supply chain partners to implement new packaging choices, and the costs embedded when doing so. Panel debate will also address if—and how much— these and other efforts mitigate social and environmental impacts, what unintended impacts they may be causing, and what solutions the organic industry can help address to overcome roadblocks to a sustainable packaging ecosystem.


The Power of People and Plant Breeding

What if you could have crop varieties that were made just for your farm, your processing line, or your restaurant menu? Participatory plant breeding is a powerful tool to leverage the unique strengths of farmers, plant breeders, chefs, processors and others to develop new plant varieties. In this workshop, panelists will share inspiring stories of how they were able to create varieties to meet their needs. Participants will also receive resources and learn the basics of the best practices of participatory plant breeding, including: setting expectations, coordinating breeding activities, addressing issues related to intellectual property, and leveraging everyone’s strengths.


Labor Challenges: An On-Farm Perspective

Changing immigration dynamics and policies have intensified the farm labor shortage, with special challenges for labor-intensive organic farms. The organic farm labor force is changing and farmers are adopting innovative strategies for managing this challenging time.This session will feature a timely discussion of the issue and its implications for the organic sector. Come hear from farmers about the realities of labor shortages and how it has impacted and changed their farms


US Organic and Mexico — Impacts of equivalency agreements on trade

As organic international trade grows and organic standards become the norm for more countries, trade arrangements are critical to maintaining integrity. This workshop will examine the USDA National Organic Program’s progress and challenges in establishing a trade arrangement between the US and Mexico. Presenters will discuss the political complications of creating an equivalency arrangement and explore the potential impacts on US-Mexico trade upon its completion.


Financing Your Farm: Combining finance tools for starting and growing an operation

With the high and increasing cost of farmland, and the unpredictable and increasingly slim margins in agriculture, it can be difficult for farmers to get financing and make payments on loans for land and expansion.  Traditional and innovative lending institutions can be part of structured deals for farmland finance, and service providers can help prepare the borrower and quarterback these arrangements.  Learn from NW Farm Credit Service, Farm Service Agency, impact investment groups that invest in farmland for farmer ownership and organic production, and the Small Business Development Center about their services and how to combine them to meet your needs.  Also hear how working land conservation easements can complement financing to reduce purchase price and generate liquidity, and discuss case studies and models for combining financing and other tools.

Co-discovering what is next for our industry: A generative dialogue

The natural/organic products industry is becoming a more complicated place to navigate with ongoing, unprecedented success it has had many outsiders coming into the industry and this impact has industry members divide on openness and resistance.  This has put into motion the breaking out of individual organizations to chart new paths on their own, while others are hosting conversations on addressing specific areas of what is next for the industry. Conscious Brands approach is to bring together a diverse group of industry leaders to have a dialogue around what it means to co-create a solution.  This session is for the BOLD. It’s designed for the leaders, the visionaries, the ones that are committed to using business to make the future better. Come to this session if you are ready to have big-picture conversations with big-picture thinkers. Do not come prepared to listen to a few select individuals telling you what you should be doing. Come ready to learn and share what you are seeing, thinking and doing to bring forward what is next for our industry.