The National Watermelon Association’s annual convention will be held Feb. 16-19 in La Quinta, CA, with an underlying theme of planning for the future for the industry and the association.
“Our keynote speaker is Sarah Sladek, and she is probably the foremost global expert on Generations X, Y and Z,” Bob Morrissey, executive director of the NWA, told The Produce News. “We are very excited to have her speak and to remain on for a couple of months as a consultant for the association.”
Sladek is the founder and chief executive officer of XYZ University, a future-focused management consulting company that specializes in helping organizations engage members of Generations X, Y and Z.
“Her company has expertise on these groups, and she has studied our industry and will be prepared to make sure we are heading in the right direction,” Morrissey added.
He said that Generation Y, which is comprised of people age 19-32, is 81 million strong, making it the largest group in the country. Additionally, it represents the largest voting bloc.
“Generation Y is literally changing the entire landscape of our world, from what and how we eat to what we watch on television to how we get our news to how we embrace organizations,” said Morrissey.
Morrissey added that members of Generation Y have a huge commitment to volunteerism, but it differs greatly from the volunteer spirit exhibited by past generations.
“The baby boomers volunteered their time to associations like the NWA and United Fresh based on doing something for the greater good of the industry,” said Morrissey. “But members of Generation Y want to see a value proposition, such as how it will help the organization and the planet, and what it will mean socially and environmentally.
“Sarah will address our membership to answer some of these questions and she will be able to specifically compare Generation Y with some of the other generations, to help us get a better understanding of the younger people who will be coming up into leadership positions in the future,” he added.
Aside from her relevant perspective on the generational differences, Morrissey said it is valuable to have someone from outside agriculture present a different viewpoint to the group.
The association also will offer a glimpse into its future with the unveiling of its new logo and web domain at the convention.
“We went through a global design contest last summer and had our board select their top three choices out of final 10,” said Morrissey. “We then put those three out to a member vote, so this will be member-voted and member-selected logo. We are very excited about releasing it to our members, but we are keeping a tight lid on it until we unveil it.”
Other highlights of the convention include a presentation by Steve Troxler, commissioner of agriculture in North Carolina, who is the past chairman of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture. Troxler will speak about the upcoming FSMA rules and what they will mean to the industry.
Additionally, the convention will feature seven state watermelon queens who will vie for the honor of serving as National Watermelon Queen for 2015. And the traditional watermelon seed spitting contest and watermelon eating contest will keep attendees entertained.
“We have John Corsaro of the Giumarra Companies returning to defend his crown as the watermelon eating champ,” said Morrissey. “It will be a lot of fun.”
A silent auction and a live auction also will be held during the week, and Morrissey expects the variety of goods and services will draw a lot of interest from attendees.
“And this is the first time in the association’s 101 years that we have held our convention in the desert,” said Morrissey. “We are very excited about the new venue and we are expecting between 400 and 500 attendees will come to enjoy the beautiful resort, outstanding weather and our informative and entertaining program. It should be a great event.”