Dealing with growers from across the country, I’m grateful to learn how this great industry ticks and to assess the issues that affect them. As we have in our magazine, Growing strives to assist the commercial fruit and vegetable grower in their efforts to maximize their business.

I absorbed a great deal visiting the regional shows last year. The wealth of knowledge and understanding I received was extremely helpful in taking an accurate pulse of this industry. Which was the reason I was just as excited when I had a chance to attend United Fresh in Chicago last month.

As a B2B professional, I tend to contrast trade show environments. It’s helpful to find the common mood or vibe of a conference – whether attendees and exhibitors are voicing the same type of concerns or concentrating on a particular issue. Most grower expos I’ve attended dealt with the general ins and outs of growing and farmstand management. Of course, United Fresh focused on the produce industry. From my take, it was a glimpse of what happens after the crops are grown and sold. I often joked with other produce industry editors by summarizing that “my readers sell to your readers.”

However, there’s overlap between the two. For instance, there’s much anticipation in the produce world on how the USDA approval on consumer-market GMO apples and potatoes will play out (touched upon in our May issue). Jennifer Armen of Okanagan Specialty Fruits spoke at the conference about her company’s non-browning Artic Apples and the chance to successful introduce it to the public at-large. Also, the issues of food safety and government regulation play a major role in the produce arena like in the growing community.

But what pleasantly surprised me about United Fresh was the camaraderie of the industry. From the Women in Produce seminars and presentations to the honor dinners recognizing the country’s top chefs and grocers, there was much to be celebrated in the land of produce. Plus, the discussions about issues were well attended, engaging and left many inspired to find solutions.

It was that type of mood that convinced most attendees I’ve spoke with to want to attend in 2016. It was a prime example of keeping of the conversation growing within the industry. Glad I attended!