BRATTLEBORO—In a public celebration and lease signing last Friday, representatives of the Organic Trade Association, Marlboro College President Ellen McCulloch-Lovell and U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy signed on the dotted line.
Later this fall, the OTA, a nonprofit membership-based business association serving North America, will move from Greenfield, Mass. — its home for the last 20 20 years — to the Marlboro College Graduate Center in Brattleboro.
“We’re thrilled to be here,” said Organic Trade Association CEO/Executive Director Christine Bushway. “We didn’t throw darts at the wall. This was a well-thought-out move. Our strength is out here where the organic base is.”
According to Bushway, the OTA considered many options before choosing the Brattleboro location. The OTA felt maintaining the “local contact” was important, despite many trade associations calling Washington, D.C., home. The group, however, does maintain a presence in the nation’s capitol.
Bushway credited Leahy, who she called “the Godfather of Organic,” with “shepherding the progress” of the U.S. organic industry and the move to Vermont.
“This move by the Organic Trade Association to Vermont is a testament to the importance of organic agriculture in our state and the leadership and entrepreneurial spirit found here,” said Leahy in an OTA press release.
According to Bushway, the Vermont Economic Progress Council (VEPC) approved up to $86,000 in Vermont Employment Growth Incentives (VEGI) to help the trade association relocate to Brattleboro, rather than consolidating its operations in Washington or remaining in Massachusetts.
The state uses the VEGI program to recruit businesses and promote expansion though providing cash payments to qualifying businesses that then meet performance targets.
VEPC Executive Director Fred Kenney said the Progress Council has recently shifted its focus from tax liability to job creation, which was one reason OTA qualified.
Bushway said the Vermont office will employ between 14 and 18 people.
Data from the 2008 Organic Production Survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture ranked Vermont 10th in the number of organic farms and eighth in organic sales, which totaled $73 million.
September marks the OTA’s 25th anniversary and the 20th anniversary of the Organic Food Production act.
As Leahy’s chief of staff from 1983 to 1994, McCulloch-Lovell remembers the opposition to the 1990 Farm Bill and Organic Foods Production Act from officials like North Carolina Republican Sen. Jesse Helms.
“This makes me so happy because those of you who were there 20 years ago know what we had to fight,” said Leahy to the audience of organic producers.
“We’re proud to be called crunchy,” joked McCulloch-Lovell.
McCulloch-Lovell said she hoped the relationship between Marlboro College and the OTA would extend beyond landlord and tenant.
In the future, she said she hoped students could “tap into” the OTA for their graduate capstone projects and undergraduate internships.