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The Southeast Produce Council will be looking back a decade and forward a decade as it gathers the first weekend in November to celebrate a major milestone: its 10th anniversary.

The council will hold its annual golf tournament and offer a variety of events -- both educational and social - for the expected large turnout of members at its 10th anniversary celebration and fall conference, set for Nov. 5-7 at the Chateau Elan Winery & Resort in Braselton, GA.

"A typical fall conference draws around 175 people," SPC Executive Director Terry Vorhees told The Produce News Oct. 12. But with the upcoming fall conference marking the 10-year anniversary, that number is expected to jump to 250 people, he said.

Following a board of directors strategic planning meeting Thursday, Nov. 5, the event really gets going with a cocktail reception Thursday evening, Nov. 5.

The keynote luncheon will be held the next day from noon to 2:30 p.m. Ronnie De La Cruz, a familiar face at SPC events, will delivery the keynote address on the topic, "Key milestones looking back, key milestones looking ahead." Mr. De La Cruz will reflect on the important events and accomplishments of the past 10 years as well as providing a glimpse of what he feels lays ahead for the industry in the next 10 years. He will outline, explore and discuss the opportunities and challenges ahead both as an industry association and as individual companies.

Also at this luncheon, the council will recognize about 20 SPC members and others who have contributed in various ways to the success of the council since its founding in 1999.

A sponsors VIP reception will be held from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday evening, followed by the opening gala party, where country music star Sammy Kershaw will perform.

On Saturday, Nov. 7, the 10th annual Ken Lanhardt Memorial Golf Tournament will be held at the Chateau golf course, beginning at 9 a.m. and ending around 2 p.m.

For non-golfers, a sporting clays tournament will be held from 9 a.m. to noon.

An awards ceremony will be held from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. for the winners in both sports.

The president's reception will be held from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., followed by the president's dinner dance, where The Headliners will perform. This six-piece group from Hilton Head Island, SC, performs big band music, rock 'n roll from the 1950s and 1960s, beach music and disco, and is "possibly the most requested band in the Southeast," according to the SPC website.

A number of highlights are planned during the dinner dance. SPC President Tom Page of Supervalu Inc. will deliver his State of the Council address.

SPC Secretary Andrew Scott of General Produce Inc. will read the names of the nominees to the SPC board of directors, including seven new people: Teri Miller, category manager of Food Lion LLC; Steve Williams, director of produce at Sweetbay Supermarkets; Paula Helton, category manager at KVAT Stores; Joe Watson, director of produce at Rouses Supermarkets; Mark Grijalva, director of produce at C&S Wholesale Grocers' Southeast division; Michael Gonzalez, sales manager at BSCC-Produce Sysco; and Mike Krage, director of produce at Winn-Dixie Stores.

And the council will recognize about 15 retail or foodservice members and about 19 other people who have contributed during the past 10 years in various ways to the success of the council.

Mr. Vorhees was on the committee that eventually led to the founding of the Southeast Produce Council back in 1999, and he has served as its executive director ever since. He reflected on the past decade during this exclusive interview with The Produce News.

"When I look back over the past 10 years, a lot of things have changed, obviously," he said. "What amazes me -- I can remember when we had 10 members. And then I remember when we hit that magic mark of 100." He continued, "I remember when we had $60 in the bank account. I look today and I think how thankful we should be and how grateful we are to all the people who have stepped up -- like those people we're going to recognize [at the fall conference] - to get us where we are today."

He praised the men and women who have served on the council's board of directors over the years and said that finding equally talented people would be key to the council's success as it moves ahead. "As we look forward down the road to the next 10 years, there's no question we're going to face challenges," he stated. "If we're going to continue to grow and succeed, we're going to need new members to step up and take part in the leadership of the council."

He continued, "I'm really pleased with these new nominees to the board of directors. We've got some great retail and foodservice members who've agreed to serve on the board. They're going to be a real asset for us."

Asked what he thought were the council's main accomplishments during its first decade, Mr. Vorhees replied, "Number one, we have not veered away from the principles of what the organization was founded on, and that was to provide affordable means for all growers and shippers -- small and large -- to be able to put a face to a name to the people that buy their products. In other words, to put buyers and sellers together."

He also pointed to the growth of its conferences and trade shows, beginning with the first expo in 2004, in Lakeland, FL.

"We had 92 exhibitors," he recalled, "and we didn't have a lot of retail and foodservice people." The 2009 expo in Tampa, FL, drew close to 200 exhibitors, and close to 1,300 people attended the three-day conference, now known as Southern Exposure.

"And we've kept Southern Exposure affordable," Mr. Vorhees said. "We wanted to make sure everybody has the same opportunity, so that's why everybody gets a 10 by 10 [foot] booth, even though some ask for larger or more booths. So everyone is on the same plane."

Looking to the future, it comes down -- as perhaps it always does -- to people.

"As we look down the road, we have to look at ways to continually keep our events fresh and come up with new ideas" that will entice people to attend, stated Mr. Vorhees. "And we also have to realize that we need to offer educational programs and what we can do to improve upon those."

He concluded, "It all goes back to the membership and those individuals like we're recognizing [at the fall conference]. They all volunteer their time and efforts. They all have a belief in the Southeast Produce Council [and want] to help it grow."