` Change in the Air at California Olive Oil Council Meeting - Olive Oil Times

Change in the Air at California Olive Oil Council Meeting

Mar. 10, 2011
Lori Zanteson

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A turnout larger than the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) has seen in years gath­ered Saturday, March 5 in Monterey for the organization’s annual meet­ing. It wasn’t the num­bers alone, how­ever, that made the event a suc­cess. The energy and enthu­si­asm were high as mem­bers par­tic­i­pated in a dynamic pro­gram of events, includ­ing sem­i­nars and a trade show com­plete with an olive oil com­pe­ti­tion. Certainly, the elec­tion of six open board seats con­tributed to the atten­dance and def­i­nitely stirred the excite­ment as well.

The increase in atten­dance came as no sur­prise to Patty Darragh, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the COOC, who esti­mated the meet­ing turnout was 30 per­cent higher than last year and Saturday night’s din­ner guests topped last year’s by 40 per­cent. The num­bers are huge,” she said with audi­ble excite­ment. Darragh attrib­uted the num­bers to the over­all growth of the indus­try as well as the new USDA Standards and the recent UC Davis Reports which she said got peo­ple in the indus­try very excited. She also cred­ited the COOC’s increased out­reach and mem­ber­ship drive, as well as the suc­cess of California grow­ers and producers.

This year’s elec­tion was laced with antic­i­pa­tion of mem­bers eager for a COOC that will work for them and adapt to the remark­able changes brought by the huge growth of California’s olive oil indus­try. In its nine­teenth year of ser­vice, the COOC has expe­ri­enced its own changes in lead­er­ship, mem­ber­ship and respon­si­bil­i­ties. Some mem­bers cast their votes a bit more pur­pose­fully than in years past, with an eye toward their future in an indus­try that, with strong advo­cacy, will take them far.

One attendee told Olive Oil Times that the unprece­dented level of inter­est in the elec­tion,” as well as the energy and excite­ment at the meet­ing, were due to the names on the bal­lot. Several atten­dees, includ­ing some found­ing mem­bers, who had left the orga­ni­za­tion some years ago, have recently renewed their mem­ber­ship, mark­ing a shift that clearly con­tributed to the excite­ment of the elec­tion, and the entire meeting.

The elec­tion is held every year at the annual meet­ing. Members rotate off the 13-mem­ber board each year as their two-year term ends. There is no limit to the num­ber of times incum­bents may seek reelec­tion. COOC mem­bers cast their votes to fill the open seats, choos­ing from incum­bents and the new can­di­dates. One attendee called the elec­tion pro­ce­dures less than stel­lar.” However, for the first time, can­di­dates were given the oppor­tu­nity to address the mem­ber­ship. The noti­fi­ca­tion was appar­ently a bit last minute, but every chal­lenger either spoke or had a state­ment read for them if they were not present.

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A promi­nent force behind California Olive Oil, Deborah Rogers, man­ag­ing co-owner of The Olive Press, was run­ning for a seat on the board. One of the orig­i­nal mem­bers of the COOC, she recently returned in what she describes as this surge of aware­ness in California olive oil” which she con­nected to the USDA stan­dards, the UC Davis report, and what’s hap­pen­ing glob­ally, such as in Australia. They’re new world, aggres­sive in mar­ket­ing and get­ting higher stan­dards,” she said of Australia. I want us to be doing the same thing.” Rogers believes in the foun­da­tion of the COOC and said she was loaded with all of these ideas to make some really pos­i­tive changes.” She would like to see the elec­tion out­come in favor of the new can­di­dates, to hope­fully make a diver­si­fied board of grow­ers, pro­duc­ers, retail­ers, and mar­keters. There are incred­i­ble oppor­tu­ni­ties along with some real chal­lenges that the California olive oil indus­try faces,” said Rogers, I want to be a part of it.”

We’re see­ing an orga­ni­za­tion at a cross­roads,” says Adam Englehardt of the COOC. Englehardt is a twelve-year COOC mem­ber and vice pres­i­dent of orchard ser­vices for California Olive Ranch. He’s been try­ing to get more grow­ers and large pro­duc­ers on the COOC board, which, he says would be a step in the right direc­tion” because the needs of both small and large pro­duc­ers need to be met.

Englehardt explained that the COOC has been more of a pro­duc­ers’ advo­cacy group, but as the indus­try gets larger, larger pro­duc­ers want the COOC to be more of a grow­ers’ advo­cacy group in terms of stan­dards.” Though he acknowl­edges that the needs of the small and large pro­ducer — high qual­ity and strict stan­dards that are enforced — are the same, the dif­fer­ences arise in prof­itabil­ity. Large grow­ers are heav­ily invested in the olive indus­try,” he said, which is dif­fer­ent from a smaller pro­ducer who does it on the side or in retire­ment. There’s a social ori­en­ta­tion to much of what the COOC is doing like tast­ings and com­pe­ti­tions. When prof­its are at stake, mem­bers want the COOC to be more of a com­mod­ity with active leg­is­la­tion, enforce­ment, and adver­tis­ing. It needs to be aggressive.

Though the elec­tion buzz was felt through­out the event, it by no means dimin­ished the inter­est and par­tic­i­pa­tion in the highly rel­e­vant and valu­able pro­gram. Between Friday evening’s recep­tion and din­ner Saturday, were a trade show, tast­ing bar and olive oil com­pe­ti­tion, and well-attended sem­i­nars. Englehardt led a sem­i­nar in two well-attended ses­sions on the effects of frost and freeze on the olive crop which he hopes will make grow­ers aware of the vital need to man­age their risk. Dan Flynn, direc­tor of the UC Davis Olive Center, mod­er­ated a con­ver­sa­tion between Paul Miller of the Australian Olive Association, Selina Wang of UCD, and Bruce Golino of Santa Cruz Olive Tree Nursery about the sci­ence and pol­i­tics of olive oil stan­dards. Other sem­i­nars included organic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, how to be your own pub­li­cist and the stand­ing-room-only pre­sen­ta­tion on olive oil food pair­ings. Susan Boyd appeared on behalf of California Senator Lois Wolk, newly appointed chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Olive Oil Production and Emerging Products.

Bob Singletary was given the coun­cil’s Pioneer Award. He is a truly won­der­ful, utterly unas­sum­ing man, who has been mak­ing olive oil in California as long as almost any­one”, Alexandra Devarenne said of Mr. Singleton in an email, adding I was absolutely thrilled that Bob was acknowl­edged for his contribution.”

This year’s annual meet­ing of the coun­cil and its mem­bers reflected the energy of California’s grow­ing, thriv­ing, and chang­ing olive oil indus­try. With a strong and effec­tive COOC, California will con­tinue to charge for­ward with that unbri­dled pas­sion and tal­ent that has brought it to this very excit­ing place.

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