The Last Chapter of My Career: Opportunity, Change and Growth

  • Melody DCIt was the beginning of a new millennium. The year 2000 had come with no calamities or misfortunes, but it did bring the winds of change.

I had built a small brokerage business that for six years had linked organic produce growers with receivers across the country. Yet a wrinkle was forming in the fabric of my business model that would change my life forever.

It was at Expo East during a frolicking evening with the OTA that I first met Barclay Hope, former President of Albert’s Organics. I had known Albert Lusk since my early days at Community Foods and knew the company had recently been purchased by UNFI.

Indeed the entire organic industry was consolidating. Independent chain stores were being acquired by Whole Foods. Regional co-op distributors were merging with UNFI. Many of my customers were becoming part of something bigger. My business acumen was soon being replaced by corporate buying offices.

When Albert’s Organics showed interest in purchasing my company, I could smell change in the air. I knew that if I didn’t soon become part of something bigger, my presence in the organic ecosystem would vanish like a great lumbering dinosaur. It was then that I decided to become part of Albert’s/UNFI.

Becoming part of something bigger

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Those early days in my first corporate settings were enlightening, sometimes challenging and ultimately rewarding. My business skills increased as did a certain savvy of negotiating the landscape of large organizations.

One of my first tasks was to cement the relationship that Alberts had with its grower community. My mission was to go hither and visit our producers, to commune, break bread and negotiate dusty fields and packing sheds across the US.

I forged many a friendship during those years and hold all of those producers deep in my well of gratitude. I learned much about the rigors and perils of organic farming from them.

In a time when the industry was growing at a pace that couldn’t keep up with supplies, those relationships were important but not quite enough. I soon realized we also needed to make strategic purchasing commitments in order to guarantee our supplies.

The contracts we wrote helped many, some in their infancy, to plant with certainty and grow their businesses to unfathomed sizes. Many of these producers are now some of the largest organic fresh produce companies leading the way. Albert’s commitments helped them to become who they are today.

Embracing producers across the globe

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After becoming acutely proficient at running forecasts and designing new purchasing systems, I came to a sudden realization. Our largest selling item was bananas, and yet we had absolutely no idea who grew or packed them.

Dole and Del Monte had served us well, but who were the people behind the labels? How could we cultivate our own direct suite of growers in the global south?

Fair Trade USA showed me the way, and I was soon off to Ecuador and Peru visiting Fair Trade banana growers who were striving to enter the International market. They escorted me time and again to meet with small grower co-ops, made up of hundred of producers, who came together to grow and pack our own private-label bananas.

The Fair Trade certification and extra money we paid them went towards social improvements in their communities. Every year I went back, I witnessed running water, schools, clinics and community-run food markets that were paid for by the Fair Trade premium.

Albert’s banana purchases were enhancing the lives of hundreds of people. What a story we could tell!

I must admit this activity also enflamed my budding wanderlust, so after bananas, I was off to Argentina, Chile and New Zealand to secure apple supplies. I even had a stint with hot house peppers in Israel.

Organic agriculture was a means to help farmers all over the world, and I wanted to spread that wealth!

Scott Dennis, former President of Albert’s, gave me another amazing opportunity. I started a separate brokerage company within UNFI that imported organic fresh produce from across the globe.

While friendships were blossoming all over the world, I was learning much about international trade.

Finding my political voice

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Business was good and organic was booming in 2012. This was the year that Michael Funk, Co-founder and former Chairman of the Board of UNFI, asked me if I wanted to become an industry advocate for the company.

I was already sitting on the board of the OTA and had begun learning that policy was extremely important for the organic trade. I jumped at the opportunity to change and continue to grow.

I left warehouses of produce in my past and began cultivating my political voice.

It was relatively late in my career, in 2014, when I worked on my very first Farm Bill. I soon came to realize that organic didn’t have its fair share of federal funding. We needed research dollars and support for the National Organic Program to do its job certifying and enforcing the standards. The Farm Bill is a vehicle to drive much funding for organic.

The next Farm Bill is being negotiated as you read this, and I urge everyone to be involved.

Discovering my literary voice

Part of my deliverables as VP of Policy & Industry Relations was to write a company blog. The Organic Matters Blog was created, and my voice emerged – timidly at first – later with great gusto.

I had spent the last 30-some years trading fresh produce, and sure I loved to read, but to write, every week? Well, that was one of the most daunting tasks yet!

The fact that you are reading this now is a testimony to change and growth, because to look back at some of my first posts, well, is a bit unsettling.

Giving back to the Industry

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It was shortly after taking my current position that Steve Spinner, CEO of UNFI, decided to formalize our philanthropic giving. The UNFI Foundation was formed, and I was named the Executive Director.

Once again with no real experience creating or running a non-profit, I was thrust into an entrepreneurial dance. This philanthropic venture would bring me great knowledge and a host of new networks and change my worldview.

Today, the UNFI Foundation supports organic projects across the US and has funded over $4 million since its inception.

No end in sight

I will be retiring from UNFI at the end of June. I look back at all the friends I have made, the knowledge I have garnered and the person I have become. They are all because of the opportunities UNFI afforded me over the past 18 years.

I will continue to write this blog and will still have an unbounded passion for the industry that has helped me become the person that I am.

My next chapter has yet to be written, and I intend to fill it with the same opportunity, change and growth as the last 18 years.

Stay tuned…

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29 thoughts on “The Last Chapter of My Career: Opportunity, Change and Growth

  1. What an inspiration you are and will continue to be. Thanks so much for all that you do for Organic! We couldn’t do it without you! Best of luck on your next adventure.

    • Thank you so much Kim. That means a lot to me! Looking forward to working with you on the next chapter for organic!

      From: Organic Matters Reply-To: Date: Friday, June 1, 2018 at 6:04 AM To: Huffington new Subject: [Organic Matters] Comment: “The Last Chapter of My Career: Opportunity, Change and Growth”

  2. Congratulations Melody! Your insight, direction and dedication has paved the dusty trails for future Organic advocates and the Organic industry. Celebrate You!

    • Thank you so much Wes! I do appreciate it!

      From: Organic Matters Reply-To: Date: Friday, June 1, 2018 at 7:05 AM To: Huffington new Subject: [Organic Matters] Comment: “The Last Chapter of My Career: Opportunity, Change and Growth”

  3. Hi Melody,
    Thanks for sharing your inspiring journey. You’ve been a great advocate for organics, and a good friend to MOSES. We wish you all the best!

    • Thank you! Not so much a good-by but let’s see what’s next!

      From: Organic Matters Reply-To: Date: Friday, June 1, 2018 at 7:07 AM To: Huffington new Subject: [Organic Matters] Comment: “The Last Chapter of My Career: Opportunity, Change and Growth”

  4. Funny you mentioned bananas~ my friend and I always discuss how odd it is that we don’t get bananas from Hawaii. It’s just about the only produce she will buy that isn’t grown in America b/c we just don’t get any from the U.S. I am less staunch in my produce buying habits, but I do still prefer U.S. ones for the mere fact of transportation.

    • Its an excellent point. Banana production has never been pursued in Hawaii on any large scale.

      I am sure the labor is much cheaper in Latin and Central America too and price plays a big factor in sales.  

      From: Organic Matters Reply-To: Date: Friday, June 1, 2018 at 11:36 AM To: Huffington new Subject: [Organic Matters] Comment: “The Last Chapter of My Career: Opportunity, Change and Growth”

  5. I can’t wait to hear about your next adventure and what wonderful things you do for the world!!!! Happy trails Melody.

    • Thank you Nancy!!!! Super excited.

      From: Organic Matters Reply-To: Date: Friday, June 1, 2018 at 12:41 PM To: Huffington new Subject: [Organic Matters] Comment: “The Last Chapter of My Career: Opportunity, Change and Growth”

  6. Congrats to you, Melody. You are such an inspiration. I hope we will continue to hear your wise words and insights.

    • Thank you so much Christine. You haven’t heard the last from me!

      From: Organic Matters Reply-To: Date: Friday, June 1, 2018 at 2:33 PM To: Huffington new Subject: [Organic Matters] Comment: “The Last Chapter of My Career: Opportunity, Change and Growth”

  7. Dear Melody,

    I retired last year after 46 years of Natural/Organic Foods retail in Northern California. After California

    voted down GMO labeling in 2012 I took my store all Organic or non-GMO certified. I read and got value

    from all of your posts. Thanks for the work you have done, the work you do, and, in advance, thanks

    for whatever you end up doing in the Organic/Fair Trade World.

    David Hinckle

    • Thank you so very much David. Stay tuned for more. Melody

      From: Organic Matters Reply-To: Date: Friday, June 1, 2018 at 9:34 PM To: Huffington new Subject: [Organic Matters] Comment: “The Last Chapter of My Career: Opportunity, Change and Growth”

  8. Dear Melody Meyer,
    This “Last Chapter” piece gives the impression that organic farming was invented by graduates of Harvard Business School in order to maximize profits for large merchandisers. That is the opposite of the truth. Organic farming was pioneered by wise farmers who were concerned with the detrimental effects on food quality caused by industrial thinking. They developed the art and science of organic farming because they understood that proper nourishment of human beings only results from proper nourishment of the soil by the caring farmer. We are the beneficiaries of their intuition, experimentation, and dedicated efforts. I am old enough to have visited many of them 50 years ago when I was first learning this craft and their products and their integrity were exceptional. They would turn over in their graves at the picture you have described.
    There is a disease in the business world that has destroyed the integrity of so many once excellent products. It is called “Profits Over Product” and it has infected organics. ‘Fauxganic’ CAFOs are now producing the majority of the meat and milk sold by your colleagues. ‘Fauxganic’ hydroponic vegetables flood the supermarkets and the USDA has even tried to rewrite history to justify that abomination. The purported gatekeepers who should be defending organic integrity, like the Organic Trade Association and the California Certified Organic Farmers, are nowhere to be seen having joined the mobs wallowing in the pit of maximizing profit at the expense of all other considerations. The answer, for those wanting to eat real organic produce, is clear – purchase your food from the small local farms that are still following the traditional organic philosophy of healthy food, healthy farms and a healthy planet. The behemoth of bigger and bigger will continue to destroy everything it touches.
    Sincerely,
    Eliot Coleman
    Four Season Farm

    • Eliot and Melody, perhaps going forward it might be useful to separate the dynamics of change in the land-based part of organic supply chains (i.e. farming) from the rest of supply chains. A lot of what ails organic these days has been pushed into/onto the organic farming sector, or imposed on it by “market forces,” policy, and/or the needs of publicly traded processors, food manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. As demand for organic grew, processing-distribution innovations arising from the same values/DNA of the organic farming pioneers did not keep up with either consumer demand or the capacity of farmers to produce high-quality, affordable organic food. In the early days, new food companies and retailers created terrific new organic food products and remarkable new spaces to buy food, and connect consumers to organic farmers, but the insatiable need to grow, that penultimate measure of success, incrementally tainted the organic mission and created bad mojo flowing back down supply chains, with some certifiers and the USDA-NOP acting as regrettably willing co-conspirators. The challenge remains — how to bring the proven, significant environmental, soil health, food safety, and nutritional benefits of organic food and farming to enough people to make a meaningful contribution to what ails the U.S. food supply, imperils the soil and water and animal resources that support food production, and undermines public health. I am 100% certain organic farmers of all scales can and will meet the demand for fairly priced, accurately labeled, high-quality, “real” organic food, but for that to happen at scale, the second half of organic food supply chains need a serious overhaul. It is great a lot of new people and positive energy is flowing into the 2nd half of organic supply chains, but let’s be real, they are swimming upstream without a lot of support. Where will positive change come from in that part of the organic food supply chain?

      • Thanks to both of you for your perspective and passion for our food and agricultural system!

        From: Organic Matters Reply-To: Date: Monday, June 4, 2018 at 7:55 AM To: Huffington new Subject: [Organic Matters] Comment: “The Last Chapter of My Career: Opportunity, Change and Growth”

    • I do appreciate your passion for bettering our food movement! Thank you

      From: Organic Matters Reply-To: Date: Saturday, June 2, 2018 at 5:43 AM To: Huffington new Subject: [Organic Matters] Comment: “The Last Chapter of My Career: Opportunity, Change and Growth”

  9. Dearest Melody,
    So thrilled to hear your blog will continue – a great reminder of your presence.
    Loved working with you and supporting your ‘voice’.
    We will both further our caring of organic as we move into our next new adventures.
    Best ever,
    Fricka

    • Thank you Fricka for all your support and guidance!

      From: Organic Matters Reply-To: Date: Saturday, June 2, 2018 at 9:00 AM To: Huffington new Subject: [Organic Matters] Comment: “The Last Chapter of My Career: Opportunity, Change and Growth”

  10. I always enjoy your articles, filled with descriptions I can taste, places I’ll never go, and customs I’d never known of: thank you so much. Glad to know you’ll still be writing: time for visiting now???

    • Thank you so much Mary for being an avid follower and reader. I do hope to see you again soon!

      From: Organic Matters Reply-To: Date: Monday, June 4, 2018 at 5:18 AM To: Huffington new Subject: [Organic Matters] Comment: “The Last Chapter of My Career: Opportunity, Change and Growth”

    • Thank you Jim and right back at you!

      From: Organic Matters Reply-To: Date: Tuesday, June 5, 2018 at 6:25 AM To: Huffington new Subject: [Organic Matters] Comment: “The Last Chapter of My Career: Opportunity, Change and Growth”

  11. We love you Melody. Thank you for your support and fight for our environment and sustainability.

    • Thanks Adele! Lets connect soon!

      From: Organic Matters Reply-To: Date: Saturday, June 9, 2018 at 8:42 AM To: Huffington new Subject: [Organic Matters] Comment: “The Last Chapter of My Career: Opportunity, Change and Growth”

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