As the world struggled through a war, a group of Florida vegetable growers in 1943 decided to form a new trade association to deal with wartime problems, as well as challenging regulations, marketing, transportation, labor and other issues.

This year the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association will celebrate its 70th birthday at its annual convention, FFVA 2013, Sept. 23-25 at The Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island.

Opening day

The opening luncheon and State of the Industry Update will feature Phil Lempert, well-known as the Supermarket Guru. Lempert is an expert analyst on consumer behavior, marketing trends, new products and the changing retail landscape. He’ll fill in participants on the trends coming to neighborhood supermarkets and what producers need to know about connecting with consumers.

The first issues forum of the convention, “Changes Ahead for Labor,” will address immigration reform legislation and how the Affordable Health Care Act will affect the agriculture industry.


Tuesday starts early at the convention’s traditional Cracker Breakfast. Retired Lt. Col. Robert J. Darling, USMC was in charge of organizing all logistical aspects of travel for the White House under former President George W. Bush when terrorists struck on Sept. 11, 2001.

Darling acted as a liaison between the vice president, the national security advisor and the Pentagon, working directly with the National Command Authority. Darling wrote the book “24 Hours inside the President’s Bunker: 9/11/01: The White House,” which describes his experiences as a key player in the White House after the terrorist attacks.

The second issues forum, “A Focus on Food Safety,” will feature Leanne Skelton, chief of the Fresh Products Branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Marketing Service. Skelton, a 20-year veteran of USDA, also was on detail with the Food and Drug Administration for six months as she helped the FDA develop new safety regulations for produce.

Joining Skelton will be Samir Assar, director of the produce safety staff in FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Since 2008, he has managed the development of FDA’s policy, regulation and guidance on produce safety, including those mandated by the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act.

“New Varieties, New Markets,” is the third issues forum and will introduce participants to the Florida Foundation Seed Producers, a not-for-profit corporation that helps the University of Florida in the commercialization of plant inventions, including new varieties of fruits and vegetables.

The relationship between FFSP and grower-producers varies from crop to crop, as do the commercialization mechanisms. This forum will provide an overview of the commercialization process and highlight the unique aspects of programs established with blueberries, strawberries, tomato and citrus.

As always, items from the Annual Benefit Auction will be displayed throughout the convention. Proceeds this year go to the Florida Specialty Crop Foundation, which supports the Redlands Christian Migrant Association, the FFVA Emerging Leader Development Program and the George Sorn Scholarship.

Last year’s auction raised more than $17,500 and to date, the auction and “Above and Beyond” donations—donations not related to auction items—have generated $461,058 for deserving causes.

To donate an item for the auction, contact Sonia Tighe at 813-975-8377. FFVA also can suggest donation ideas or put together a gift basket on your behalf.

The Annual Awards Luncheon will honor leaders important to the Florida specialty crop industry. Awards for Legislator of the Year, Researcher of the Year and Merchandiser of the Year will be presented. Recipients of the Syngenta Scholarship and the George F. Sorn Scholarship will also be announced, and recognition will be given to FFVA members celebrating significant membership milestones.

In addition to dining and dancing to live music, Class 2 of the Emerging Leader Development Class will graduate at Tuesday night’s closing banquet.

Capping the event

To cap off the event, Wednesday will bring the annual fishing excursion and the Florida Specialty Crop Foundation Golf Tournament, which will tee off at The Golf Club of Amelia Island.

Register now for FFVA 2013 online at or call 321-214-5200 with any questions. Additional information, speaker backgrounds and agenda are posted at  

Barbara Wunder is communications manager at FFVA. She may be reached at or 321-214-5200.