Since first being conceived back in 2004, the Organic Tree Fruit Association (OTFA) and its Upper Midwest Organic Tree Fruit Network have come a long way. Today, OTFA has a list-serv of organic tree fruit growers with more than 700 participants. They also have a website with a wealth of information, and a formal association with around 40 members.
The association has several levels of membership and is governed by a board of directors that are elected by the members. The association funds the website and newsletter, applies for grants, manages the list-serv, and represents the organic apple industry. The Network is the communication arm of the group and consists of a list-serv, newsletter, and website. Participation in the Network is free to everyone. The Network is where the interaction among organic tree fruit growers really takes place.
Today, the OTFA is at a crossroads as an organization. For the past three years, much of its funding has come from a USDA Specialty Crops Block Grant. However, Harry Hoch, founding member of OTFA, says the group’s ultimate goal is to become a self-funded organization whose fund-raising efforts are solely dedicated to supporting research projects.
So what is the next step for OFTA? It could start with expanding its focus beyond the Midwest and promoting itself as a national organization. “While geographically expanding our membership could reduce the voice of our Midwest organic growers, if we structure it properly, we could include western and eastern growers,” says Hoch. “There is currently no single organization that represents the organic tree fruit industry. While there are conventional fruit grower organizations and several organic farming groups, there is nobody representing the unique interests of organic fruit growers. I think OTFA could fill that role.” Hoch also points out that with the National Organic Program constantly changing rules and adapting to the needs of consumers and organic farmers, the organic tree fruit industry needs to maintain an influence with the National Organic Standards Board.
For more information on OTFA and the Upper Midwest Organic Tree Fruit Network, including how to join, go to http://organictreefruit.org.