SALEM, Ohio — Organizers of this year’s statewide produce conference are hoping a new name and new focus will help draw more participants.
The Ohio Produce Network — formerly known as the Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association Congress — will be held Jan. 15-17 at the Kalahari Convention Center in Sandusky.
The event offers training and educational opportunities for the produce industry in Ohio and surrounding states, and this year will feature two days of keynote speakers.
Michele Payn, author and agriculture advocate with Cause Matters, will talk about the food-to-table movement and the current trends in communicating about agriculture, during the opening day, Jan. 15, at 10 a.m.
And Melinda Witten, leadership programming director with the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation and part of Witten Farm Market & Greenhouse, will talk about multi-generational involvement in agriculture.
Network of partners
Valerie Graham, who became executive director in the spring of 2017, said the new name of the conference is intended to show the “network” of partners that make up Ohio’s produce industry, including Ohio State University and the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
“We’re trying to get the morale up,” she said. “We tried to put some programs in there so that there’s really something for everyone.”
In addition to keynote speeches, the program includes sessions intended to help growers, marketers and food processors.
On Monday, Jan. 15, you can learn about estate and business planning, asparagus production, organic and non-GMO certification, and at least a dozen other topics, including a talk by OSU scientist Matt Kleinhenz, on specialty potato production.
Tuesday’s schedule includes a talk on sweet corn and pepper production, hard cider research in Ohio, and an energy infrastructure and pipeline talk with OFBF’s Dale Arnold.
There are multiple sessions on produce safety, including a question and answer session Tuesday at 7 p.m. on the Food Safety Modernization Act, led by Matt Fout of the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
Also, the federally approved Produce Safety Alliance training will be offered all three days, intended to help growers meet FSMA requirements.
Aaron Buurma, president of Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association and vice president of Buurma Farms, in Willard, Ohio, said he’s excited about the new executive director and he hopes the new name “will put a more positive spin on the show.”
Buurma said there will also be out-of-state speakers, including the University of Kentucky and Michigan State University.
A big plus, he believes, is that this year’s conference will be held in the original part of the convention center, which is not as large and is less spread out. This should give the conference more of a quaint, connected feel, he said.
And come 2019, the site contract is up, so organizers plan to look at their options, including the possibility of moving the event to a more centrally located city in Ohio.
To learn more about the conference, including the full schedule of events and to register, visit www.opgma.org. There is also information about hotels and becoming a trade show vendor. Pre-registration should be completed by Jan. 11.
Related: Growing ‘Better Together’ at the Ohio Produce Network conference (Jan. 5, 2018.)