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Providing a United Voice for Southeast Specialty Crop Farmers
As Georgia's number two agricultural cash crop, most of Georgia's fruits and vegetables are grown for the fresh market to be sold and consumed in other states.
The Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, GFVGA, provides programs and services to the membership designed to increase production efficiencies, provide educational opportunities, promote new markets, monitor legislation, encourage applied research and improve communications between GFVGA members and industry suppliers.
While Georgia has a strong history of being one of the largest fresh produce producing states on the East Coast, it wasn't until the mid-1990s that an organized association was formed to address common issues and to speak for the Georgia specialty crop industry.
Following the 1995 Vegetable and Small Fruit Conference in Tifton, Georgia, a group of vegetable, peach and blueberry growers met to discuss mutual issues and concerns with Ed Thornton of the Georgia Farm Bureau facilitating discussions and providing administrative support.
As discussions continued over the next six to seven months, it was determined that growers had sufficient interest to organize themselves into a trade association that would serve as the voice of the specialty crop industry in Georgia. The association would also seek to develop education programs, secure research funding and organize marketing opportunities to benefit fruit and vegetable growers in Georgia.
The first organizational meeting was held on August 22, 1996 at the Rural Development Center in Tifton. The group voted to name the organization, the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, GFVGA, and to elect the organizing officers directors.
Carroll Hopkins of Grady County was the first member of the newly organized GFVGA. At this meeting the new Board of Directors hired Association Services Group in LaGrange to serve as their management partner.
At the first organizational meeting, membership categories were established with "growers" being the only members with voting rights and the only members eligible to hold office. This bold step established the long-term leadership for the organization- the organization belongs to the growers and the growers must make it work.
While the Board wanted the new organization to be grower led, they knew much cooperation and guidance was needed from all members of the produce industry, and the GFVGA Advisory Council was established to meet with the Board for advice and counsel. The Advisory Council would include the presidents of all specific produce commodity associations, commodity state specialists from the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension and allied members to represent supplier and vendor interest in the industry.
Following the landmark organizational meeting, GFVGA began publishing their quarterly magazine, the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers New, now Grower News, and they participated in the Vegetable and Small Fruit Conference in Tifton.
The first membership meeting was held on January 24, 1998, at the Georgia Farm Bureau headquarters in Macon with over 75 people in attendance. The program included roundtable discussions and a banquet.
Following the successful membership meeting in 1998, the Board established a committee to study the feasibility of holding an annual meeting each year. The committee was tasked with recommending a date, location and educational program content.
After visiting meeting locations in Columbus, Macon, Savannah and Albany, the committee determined that Macon, with it's central statewide location, close proximity to the state's growing regions and reasonable rooming costs, was the best location for an annual meeting.
The Board, however, felt a more viable and attractive location to growers and their spouses would be Savannah, but the city offered a lot of challenges, distance and lodging costs being at the top of the list.
With strong grower input and leadership, the Board voted to personally identify exhibitors and sponsors they could solicit so the meeting could be held in Savannah. The first GFVGA Winter Conference was held January 1999 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel with over 500 attendees and 52 exhibitors in the trade show.
Since then, the conference has changed to the Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable Conference, co-sponsored with the Georgia and South Carolina Peach Councils, and with continued grower support, now boasts of over 3,000 attendees and over 300 trade show exhibitors.
Since it's inception, GFVGA has been hard at work representing growers and has become a leader in the Southeast specialty crop industry by providing a voice for Georgia and southeastern fruit and vegetable growers. By attending the Georgia Agribusiness Breakfast in Atlanta and the United Fresh Washington Conference in Washington, D.C., GFVGA works to ensure the voice of southeastern specialty crop farmers is heard.