change-in-the-air-at-california-olive-oil-council-meetingA 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 was 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. Notification was apparently a bit last minute, but every challenger either spoke or had a statement read for them if they were not present.

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.”

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