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Specialty Food Association Honors 6 with Leadership Awards

By Robin Mather

The Specialty Food Association recognized the positive contributions of six members who, while running their own businesses, took time to do something to improve their communities and the world. The sixth annual Leadership Awards were presented to the recipients at the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, California, in January.

Former Whole Foods Co-CEO Walter Robb keynoted the awards ceremony, speaking about how quickly things have changed in the specialty foods industry, and the imperative for retailers to keep up. “Salt, butter and sugar — that was the Holy Trinity in the early days of the Specialty Food Association,” he said. “We have never seen a rate of change happening this fast. The present has never been this temporary.”

He urged the audience to “lead from a sense of purpose and of mission,” which helped him grow Whole Foods from a “little natural foods store in 1978” to the retail leader it is today. New retailing opportunities mean that “we’re all looking at an incredibly expanding world of food in an endless aisle.”

The awards recognized two business owners in each of three categories: business leadership, citizenship and vision. In the business leadership category, honorees were recognized for advancing best practices to benefit food industry employees. Meg Barnhart of The Zen of Slow Cooking in Lake Forest, Illinois, was lauded for the company’s social mission of hiring employees with disabilities for their packaging team. The Zen of Slow Cooking was also recently became a Certified B Corp.

“Who knew a slow cooker would be a vehicle for change?” Barnhart quipped while noting that her company got its beginnings in her discovery of the slow cooker as a boon to the overburdened mother. The company’s Sichuan Slow Cooker Spice Blend won a sofi Award for best new product in the seasonings and spice category last year.

Christopher J. Patton of the Midwest Elderberry Cooperative and River Hills Harvest Marketers LLC of Minneapolis, Minnesota, was also honored in the in the business leadership category. Under Patton’s guidance, a cooperative of elderberry growers got its start in the upper Midwest, giving growers a chance to compete against imported European elderberry products.
“Thanks for recognizing a co-op that harvests this nutrition-dense little berry,” Patton said. “It shows that human cooperation will not go away, despite technology.”

In the citizenship category, Ryan Emmons of Waiakea Hawaiian Volcanic Water in Culver, California, was recognized for the company’s social mission: The company donates a week’s supply of clean water to drought-stricken regions of Malawi for every liter sold. More than 500 million liters of water have been channeled to rural regions through the company’s charity partner, Pump Aid.

Sam Mogannum of Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco, California, was also honored in the citizenship category for the company’s many contributions to its community, including a nonprofit called 18 Reasons, a subsidized cooking school that gives consumers confidence to buy, cook and eat good food. The program connects with roughly 6,000 students and community members per year. “We’re all about community, love, passion and integrity,” Mogannum said. Speaking of 18 Reasons, he said, “We all need to lead with more love.”

Mohammed Ashour of the Aspire Food Group in Austin, Texas, was honored in the vision category. Aspire aims to end hunger and protein insuffiencies by producing roasted cricket snacks under the Aketta label here in the United States. The company also grows palm weevil larvae for family sustenance in Ghana.

Thierry Ollivier of Natierra by Brandstorm in Van Nuys, California, was also honored in the vision category. Ollivier’s company was the first to offer Himalayan pink salt in the United States, and introduced the goji berry to Whole Foods. The company’s Feed a Soul program provides a meal for every child in a school in Haiti.  “So far, we have provided 350,000 free meals to school children,” Ollivier said. “Our goal is 1 million meals in 2018.” In a poignant moment, he dedicated his award to his late two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, who died two days before Feed a Soul launched.

“These six specialty food entrepreneurs reflect the great power and impact of our growing industry on society at large,” said Phil Kafarakis, President of the Specialty Food Association. “It’s an honor to recognize their positive social, economic, and environmental achievements – all undertaken while also meeting the daily challenges of managing successful businesses.”

Nominations were made by members of the Specialty Food Association and others in the specialty food industry. A panel of judges composed of industry experts and influencers selected the honorees from more than 50 nominees. The judges included: Polly Adema, University of the Pacific, San Francisco, California; Cathy Cochran-Lewis, Whole Foods Market, Austin, Texas; Lou Cooperhouse, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey; Margaret Core, Food Marketing Institute, Washington, D.C.; Maren Keeley, Conscious Company Magazine, Seattle, Washington; Bruce Nierenberg, Greyston Bakery, Yonkers, New York; John Raiche, UNFI, Providence, Rhode Island; and Lisa Sposato, City Harvest, New York, New York.

USDA Withdraws Animal Welfare Rule from National Organic Program

By Lorrie Baumann

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday that it is withdrawing the animal welfare regulation it had delayed three times. The rule would have established animal welfare standards that would have applied to the producers of organic livestock and eggs. The regulation was proposed in the waning days of the Obama administration after the completion of a rulemaking process that included extensive public comments, which were overwhelmingly in favor of adopting the new standards. In the opposite camp was the National Pork Producers Council, which applauded the USDA action. The USDA delayed the rule following the inauguration of the Trump administration, and then delayed it further. Before the final withdrawal, the rule had been scheduled to take effect in May and would have applied only to products bearing the USDA-certified organic seal.

The Obama-era regulation – the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule – would have incorporated into the National Organic Program welfare standards that were not based on science and that were outside the scope of the Organic Food Production Act of 1990, according to the National Pork Producers Council, which maintains that the Organic Food Production Act limited consideration of livestock as organic to feeding and medication practices.

“We’d like to thank Sec. Perdue and the Trump administration for listening to our concerns with the rule and recognizing the serious challenges it would have presented our producers,” said NPPC President Ken Maschhoff, a pork producer from Carlyle, Illinois.

The rule would have required that poultry must be housed in spaces that are big enough for the birds to move freely, stretch their wings, stand normally and engage in natural behaviors. Livestock, including poultry, would have been required to have access to outdoor space year-round. The rule would have banned the current practice, followed by some poultry producers, of confining birds to barns with a screened porch as their only access to the outdoors.

NPPC maintains that animal production practices have nothing to do with the basic concept of “organic.” The Organic Trade Association begs to differ. “USDA wrongly alleges that the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA) does not authorize the animal welfare provisions of the OLPP final rule, and, in doing so, cites definitions of organic outside the law,” the organization said in a statement.

“It is notable that USDA cites the Merriam-Webster dictionary to justify a definition of ‘organic,'” said Organic Trade Association CEO and Executive Director Laura Batcha. “Merriam-Webster also defines outdoor as ‘not enclosed; having no roof,’ and porches as ‘a covered area…having a separate roof.’ Organic standards already require that organic producers provide their animals access to the outdoors. So, by the assessment from Merriam-Webster, a source which USDA endorses in its official notice, porches are clearly not allowed in organic.”

The Organic Trade Association has filed suit in an attempt to force the USDA to implement the rule and will now be amending its complaint to challenge this new USDA action. “Since the filing of our lawsuit last September, a host of organic stakeholders representing thousands of organic farming families, organic certifiers and organic policymakers – along with leading animal welfare and retail groups speaking out for millions of consumers — have joined our challenge,” Batcha said. “The organic sector depends on USDA to set organic standards fairly and according to the law. When USDA fails to do this, it is time for the organic community to insist that it live up to its responsibility.”

Schuman Cheese Celebrates World Championship Honors

Seven new medals prove Schuman Cheese continues to earn its reputation as a world-class cheese maker. Schuman’s flagship brand, Cello, earned Best in Class honors in the Aged Asiago category, as well as medals in other categories. Meanwhile, Schuman’s Yellow Door Creamery picked up a silver medal for Tuscan Hand-Rubbed Fontina. Both brands earned recognition in several other categories, as well.

All winning entries were made at Schuman’s Lake Country Dairy, which Schuman Cheese opened in 2006 with a singular passion: to make great specialty cheeses. Thanks to rich pastures, pure, fresh water and the careful husbandry of a select group of family farmers, the very best milk from Wisconsin’s dairyland goes into every wheel.

The result is a family of highly awarded cheeses, including these winners from among this year’s record-breaking 3,402 entries in the World Championship Cheese Contest:

Asiago for webCello Asiago proves that some things truly do grow better with age. Aging for 10 months, a bit longer than most, results in a superior, traditional smooth and balanced flavor. Cello Asiago took Best in Class honors in the Aged Asiago category, while a Cello Extra-Aged Asiago wheel earned third place in the category.

Every wheel of Cello Artisan Parmesan is brined, hand-turned and shelf-cured for optimal quality and a complex flavor composition that is truly a delicious work of art. In the Parmesan category, Cello Artisan Parmesan earned a silver medal, while Cello Organic Copper Kettle Parmesan rounded out the category with a bronze medal.

The heritage of Italian cheese making – hand-crafting, brining and careful shelf-curing – gives Cello Fontal its smooth, creamy texture and mild, slightly sweet flavor. It also gave Schuman Cheese a silver medal in the Open Class for Semi-Soft Cheeses.

TuscanNewLabelWheel_2-21-18Schuman Cheese’s Yellow Door Creamery brand encourages people to enjoy the amazing range of flavors possible with cheese. The Yellow Door Creamery Hand-Rubbed Fontina line continues to validate this award-worthy concept with its robust rubs hand-smeared on wheels of creamy fontal cheese. The Tuscan variety (a rub of classic Italian herbs and spices) earned silver in the Open Class for Flavored Semi-Soft Cheeses, while Bergamot & Hibiscus (a custom bergamot and hibiscus spice blend) earned a bronze medal.

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