History

A History of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association

Georgia has a strong history as being one of the largest fresh produce producing states on the east coast. However up until the mid-1990’s there was no organized association to address common issues and speak for the industry. Following the 1995 Vegetable and Small Fruit Conference held in Tifton and sponsored by the Georgia Cooperative Extension Service, a group of vegetable, peach and blueberry growers began meeting to discuss mutual issues and concerns. Ed Thornton of the Georgia Farm Bureau facilitated discussions and provided administrative support for this ad hoc committee. As the discussion continued over of the next six to seven months, it was determined the growers had sufficient interest to organize themselves into a trade association which would serve as the “voice” of the industry. The vision of this association would also develop educational programs, secure research funding and organize marketing opportunities to benefit fruit and vegetable growers in Georgia.

The official organizational meeting was held at the Rural Development Center in Tifton, Georgia, on August 22, 1996. At that meeting, the group voted to name the organization the Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association and the organizing officers and directors were elected:

Bill Brim President
Terrell Hudson Vice President
Nancy Childers Secretary, Treasurer
Directors:
Jim Amerault Whigham
Kevin Coggins Lake Park
Terry England Auburn
Kent Hamilton Normal Park
Carroll Hopkins Cairo
Greg Leger Cordele
Gerald Long Bainbridge
Greg Murray Bainbrindge
Bill Thomas Tifton

Seated (L-R) Terrell Hudson, Bill Brim,
Nancy Childers

Standing (L-R) Gerald Long, Greg Murray, Ken Hamilton, Bill Thomas, Ed Thornton

At this organizational meeting the membership categories were established with ‘growers’ being the only voting members of the association and the only category to hold office. This was quite different than many other agricultural associations which allowed allied, associate and even educational members to vote and hold office. While this policy was a bold step, it established the long term leadership for the organization; the organization belongs to the growers and growers must make it work.

Carroll Hopkins of Grady County was the first person to join the newly organized Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association. At this meeting, the new Board of Directors hired Association Services Group of LaGrange to serve as their management partner.

While the originating committee and growers elected to the first Board wanted the new organization to be ‘grower led’, they knew much cooperation and guidance was needed from all members of the produce industry. During the organizational meeting the Board established the GFVGA Advisory Council that would meet with the Board of Directors for advice and counsel. The Advisory Council would include the Presidents of all specific produce commodity associations (i.e. Georgia Blueberry Association, Georgia Peach Council, Georgia Strawberry Association, etc.), commodity state specialists from the University of Georgia and ‘allied’ members to represent supplier and vendors interest from the industry.

Following this landmark organizational meeting, later in the Fall the organization began a new publication titled the Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Grower News. In addition, the new organization participated in the Vegetable and Small Fruit Conference in Tifton in November, 1996.
GFVGA held its first membership meeting on January 24, 1998 at the Georgia Farm Bureau headquarters building in Macon. The program included roundtable discussions in the afternoon and a banquet that evening. Over 75 people attended the meeting.

After a successful membership meeting, the Board established a committee to study the feasibility of holding an annual meeting each year. The committee was charged with recommending a location, date, and educational program content. The committee visited meeting locations in Columbus, Macon, Savannah and Albany. They determined the most feasible location would be Macon due to the central statewide location, close proximity to the growing regions and reasonable rooming costs. However, the Board of Directors felt a more viable and attractive location to growers and spouses would be Savannah, but the city offered a lot of challenges . . . distance and lodging costs being the major concerns. Expressing 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 people attending and 52 companies exhibiting in the trade show. Again, ‘grower’ leadership created a successful conference that has now grown to over 2,200 attendees and 300 exhibiting companies.

The Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association immediately began representing growers by attending the Georgia Agribusiness Breakfast in Atlanta in February 1997. This was followed by identifying other issues on which the Board and staff would take leadership roles. Labor, which still remains a major issue with GFVGA, was the topic of the first National Policy Statement issued by GFVGA. Since 1996 the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association has continued to be a leader for Georgia and southeastern fruit and vegetable growers.

Click here for Milestones in GFVGA history

Click here for a list of past presidents