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Colorado’s fruit and vegetable growers unify under a common front

The CFVGA board poses in the Buena Vista area. From left, Adrian Card, Jason Condon, Robert Sakata, Aaron Perry, Elizabeth Parker, Amy Kunugi, Bruce Talbott and non-board member John Recca. Not pictured is Shane Milberger.
For The Tribune/CFVGA |

To attend the 1st Annual Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association Conference

When: Feb. 25

Where: Renaissance Hotel

3801 Quebec Street Denver, Colo.

To attend: Visit http://cfvga.org to register and find more event details.

*The Governor’s Forum on Colorado Agriculture will take place at the Renaissance Hotel the following day.

Conference schedule

8:00–8:30 a.m. - Registration and refreshments

8:30–9:00 a.m.- Opening remarks

Robert Sakata, president, Colorado Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association

John Salazar, outgoing commissioner, Colorado Department of Agriculture

9:00–9:40 a.m. - Keynote Address: “Why Produce Is Important”

Jandel Allen Davis, MD

During this segment, the association will also conduct an interactive audience response survey.

10:00–11:00 a.m. - Worker Protection Standards Proposed Rule Changes for 2015

Thia Walker, CSU Extension specialist, Colorado Environmental Pesticide Education Program

11:10–12:10 p.m. - Rollout of CFVGA Strategic Plan

Robert Sakata, president, Colorado Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association

John Recca, managing director, BrandWerks Group

11:10–12:10 p.m. - Lunch and remarks

Dr. James Pritchett, assistant vice president for engagement, Colorado State University

1:00–1:50 p.m. - Three options

1. Grower/buyer networking session in breakout room. Buyers may include representatives from King Soopers, Whole Foods, Alfalfas, Natural Grocers, Safeway and more.

2. Engage in facilitated round table discussions in main ballroom. Topic areas will include organic soil fertility, CSU fruit and vegetable research, organic certification, National Young Farmers Coalition, organic pest management, food safety, Colorado Department of Agriculture Markets Division.

3. Visit with exhibitors

2:00–3:00 p.m. - Food Safety: Navigating the Rules for Agricultural Water

Hank Giclas, senior vice president, science, technology and strategic planning, Western Growers Association

3:10–4:10 p.m. - Getting the Most Out of Social Media Marketing

Katie Abrams, Assistant Professor, Department of Journalism and Technical Communication, Colorado State University

4:10–5:30 p.m. - Conference evaluation, live with clickers

Annual member business meeting

6:00 p.m. - On your own, dinner in hotel restaurant or Governor’s Forum on Colorado Agriculture Reception at Governor’s Mansion

Robert Sakata, president of Brighton’s Sakata Farms, said until recently, the state’s fruit and vegetable growers largely failed to realize how economically important they are. Even as a life-long vegetable grower himself, Sakata was surprised to learn Colorado ranked 14th in the nation for vegetables, melons, potatoes and sweet potatoes as of the 2012 Census of Agriculture.

Through the Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association (CFVGA), Sakata hopes to turn a new leaf for growers.

Celebrating its first anniversary this month, CFVGA seeks to serve as a policy advocate, educational tool and outreach arm for both large and small operations, Sakata explained. While organizations exist representing individual commodities, such as the Colorado Onion Association, CFVGA is the first organization of its kind to bring together interests from all corners of the state.



The same geographic diversity that keeps Colorado’s kitchens full of crunchy greens and juicy peaches had also historically prevented the state’s farmers from forming a unified voice, Sakata said. While orchards on the Western Slope face many of the same policy issues as the fields of the Front Range, distance and the rugged Rockies stifled fraternity among fruit and vegetable growers.

With the help of teleconferencing technology, Sakata has been able to bring these growers together, regardless of distance and winter weather.



“We’ve been using Zoom, online visual webinars, in order to meet. Utilizing technology makes it so much easier for us to have those kinds of meetings and connect with people,” Sakata said.

In the future, Sakata hopes to utilize the technology to offer lunchtime webinars on topics most impacting farmers, such as food safety.

With the association’s first annual conference approaching on Feb. 25, web conferencing has allowed the group to pool insight from growers located far from the conference location at the Renaissance Hotel at 3801 Quebec St., Denver.

Natalie Condon, who co-owns Lafayette’s Isabelle Farm with her husband, Jason, said the conference will provide a rare opportunity to network with growers and buyers from across the state.

“One benefit is to meet other people who are doing what we are doing and share ideas and communicate. For us, it really does come down to having an organization that can help us stay abreast of food safety issues, (and) keep up us connected to the very best auditors, for example,” she said.

The Condons grow 80 kinds of produce on a small-acreage farm to sell through their CSA program or at market. The opportunity to meet Western Slope growers provides the farm the potential to boost its offering and diversify the produce it offers to its customers.

One of those growers is Bruce Talbott, who cultivates hundreds of acres of peaches, wine grapes and pears at Talbott Farms in Palisade.

While the Western Slope Horticultural Society represents growers like Talbott, he said the benefit of CFVGA will be the united front with their vegetable-growing counterparts.

“The vegetable growers are the one group that doesn’t have any organization, so they need the fruit (growers) to help get critical mass,” Talbott said.

For him, a major benefit will be greater accessibility to the Capitol in addressing issues such as labor availability, water regulations and new food safety standards.

Rather than make the eight-hour round trip to Denver, he will now have other CFVGA members to help directly advocate for operations like his own.

For a demanding industry like farming, it is a relief to know someone is taking the time to protect growers’ interests, said Joe Petrocco of Weld County vegetable operation, Petrocco Farms.

“Farmers are working all the time. We are constantly on the run. There is not a lot of time to research,” he said, pointing to the time-saving value of the association.

As Sakata explained, it was time for a group like CFVGA to sprout up and address farmers’ concerns: “There is a need for advocacy on behalf of farmers, farmland, water issues and food safety issues. It’s just all coming to a head at the same time and that really galvanized this group.”

For more information about the Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association , visit http://coloradoproduce.org.


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