It’s a Family Reunion at IFTA

I was talking with a grower at this year’s International Fruit Tree Association (IFTA) Conference in Wenatchee, WA, about how we editors cover these events, knowing there are a few publications represented and we’re all listening to the same presentations and visiting the same orchards. I told him my approach is to listen for common themes among the presentations and use that as a starting point for my reports.

A few of those themes will appear in the content of this month’s cover story, but one that won’t make it is one I heard continually at this year’s conference — family. Quite a few IFTA board members talked about how the organization is more than a community, and I agree.

This year marked my fifth consecutive IFTA conference — and seventh IFTA event if you count summer tours. Every year it feels more and more like a family reunion, where I look forward to catching up with folks I’ve met from all over the country and globe.

I fondly remember meeting Tom Chudleigh and his orchard manager Bruce Shannon and his wife, Hilda, on a trolley tour of Boston. I jokingly told Tom I must have looked like a lost puppy on my second day at one of these conferences, because they adopted me and I joined them on stop after stop around the city. Little did I know then that the first person I would meet was a former IFTA president! I joined Tom, Bruce, and Hilda at the banquet in Boston, and I try to sit with the Chudleighs’ folks every year.

Then there was the time Evan and Nathan Milburn joined me for pie in Kelowna, BC, and essentially put me through a job interview. They asked me about everything from my background in agriculture to my work history; I think they might have even asked my graduating GPA and my ACT scores. I must have fared well, because Evan joined me for pie again this year, in what is becoming an annual tradition.

And while I’ve met growers from around the world, little did I know I’d meet someone from my hometown on a bus in Washington State during the 2015 IFTA Summer Tour. That’s right, I traveled 2,000-some miles and sat next to Joe Olecki of Mitchell’s Orchard and Farm Market in Ashland, OH, which is less than a mile away from my parents’ house.

These experiences not only make me smile, but they make me look forward to every conference. You’re more than just a member of an organization in being part of IFTA — you’re as incoming president Rod Farrow put it — “a 699-person family.”

Rod went on to say “the strength of what IFTA provides is family.” For every one of you I’ve met through IFTA, I couldn’t agree more. Thank you for being my orchard family and for making the big world of orcharding seem so much more welcoming.

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