by Lindsay Fahey, MBA candidate, Marlboro Graduate School

While the Organic Trade Association (OTA) recently moved its headquarters to the Marlboro Graduate School last year, Christine Bushway, Executive Director and CEO, came straight from Capitol Hill to address attendees of the Slow Living Summit Friday morning.

Here’s Bushway’s PowerPoint presentation:

Slow Living Summit 2011 presentation by Christine Bushway [slideshare id=8438985&w=425&h=355&sc=no]

View more presentations from SlowLiving

The OTA, which is a membership based association, represents everybody and everything, covering the entire organic supply chain. This includes all organic food, personal care, fiber and pet food production. Within the expansive supply chain the OTA represents sole proprietorships, small farms and multinationals.

Yesterday, Bushway was one of the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) members who met with President Barack Obama’s Economic Development teams to lay out innovative strategies and policies to rebuild our economy, emphasizing the ripe opportunities in organics. As Bushway recounted her experience, a fellow Marlboro MBA @laurazeppieri tweeted “Straight from DC: organics are what’s going to turn our country around”.

While Bushway described organics as a “tiny bite of the apple,” representing 4% of the food industry, it’s 8% growth rate is 16x that of conventional products. This astounding growth during a time of economic hardship means that the organic industry is producing new jobs at 4x the rate of the traditional business community. The current supply of organic product is projected to fall short of the demand in the coming year, leaving the door open for new entrants to fulfill the 4 million additional organic acres required to meet demand.

To date the organic industry has penetrated 3/4 of the households in the country and is likely to expand as people continue to make the connection between their health and the food they consume. Choosing organic can help reduce exposure to environmental chemicals that can increase the risk of cancer. With the cancer rate looming at 41%, the motivation to choose organic is stronger than ever.

The future and growth of organics is promising but it isn’t without daunting challenges, many of which were highlighted in the Q&A session. One of the hot button topics was GMO’s and their continued threat to organics. Currently there are 22 in the pipeline for deregulation, heightening the urgency for GMO labeling legislation. “Who pays when big agri business bumps up against organic production (in the fields) and contaminates it,” asked Bushman. In response, a passionate audience member made the following statement on population explosion and the role of biotech. “If they (biotech) are proud to say they are addressing hunger, they should be proud to label their food.”

Bushman has a clear understanding of the complex challenges the OTA faces and it appears with her at the helm the future of organics remains bright.