For the members of the fresh flower and produce industry, there is nothing like the Produce Marketing Association’s (PMA) Fresh Summit, a trade organization supporting fresh produce and floral companies. The annual summit to push the mission of fresh forward, brings together over 1,000 exhibitors and 19,500 attendees from all over the world.
As a wellness specialist and advocate, I had the special opportunity of joining the Kitchen Play team to get an insider’s look at the action.
Held this year in October in the enchanting city of New Orleans, the Fresh Summit brings the extensive world of fresh produce into one place. Vendors and exhibitors put forward their best products, and with items like mini cucumber strawberry boats, apple rings flatbread, cheesy cauli-tots, or pistachio chewy bite watermelon pizza, you are unlikely to find more creative, delicious, and fresh foods anywhere. Participants are encouraged to take part in a Sensory Contest, in which their innovative recipes are put to taste, touch, and smell tests. And luckily for me, I got to join one of two judging teams and experience the best of what contestants had to offer. This year’s winners include spaghetti squash pizza nests and a layered strawberry mango dip. Is your mouth watering yet?
Beyond the delicious foods, the Fresh Summit is a place for learning. Passionate vendors will jump at the chance to teach you anything you want to know, and more, about their products. Ever wonder how a seedless watermelon is created? Turns out the answer is not all that simple! (As described by one vendor, “a seedless watermelon comes to pass when you cross a seeded watermelon, which is a diploid, meaning two sets of chromosomes, with a tetrapoloid, which is four sets of chromosomes, at a production level. So you plant these in a production field, they cross, and they produce fruit which is a tripload – three sets of chromosomes – and it’s sterile, like a mule…”) You might need to go back to your high school biology class to follow that explanation.
For fellow avocado lovers, there is much to learn about the world of avocado growth. For example, turns out that the avocado is one of the healthiest conventionally grown products out there, because it requires so few chemicals to grow. In fact, as California avocado producer Rick Shade describes, “There really is very minimal difference between organic and conventional avocados. The avocados, even conventionally grown avocados, use so few chemicals. For instance, the Environmental Working Group does a paper every year of the top crops that they feel you should buy organic because of worry of pesticide residue. But, to their credit, in the last few years they started publishing what they call the Great Eight, which are the eight top crops that you can buy conventionally grown off the grocery shelf that you should have absolutely no worry about any chemical, so there’s no difference that way. I think two things that might surprise people about avocados: they’re very healthy.”
Another fun fact from aptly named Mr. Shade is that avocados require 16-18 months of growth on the tree before they are harvested. And, avocados create their own mulch, which allows organically grown avocados to be produced with no fertilizer.
In addition, natural minerals can influence the texture of an avocado. According to one Mexican avocado farmer, a local volcano, “the Paricutin, leads to the importation of a lot of minerals to the avocados, which makes them creamier.” Of course, if you want to know for sure whether California or Mexican-grown avocados are creamier, you may just need to conduct a test for yourself.
PMA is not just about food itself – representatives like Anne Potterton from environmentally-healthy companies such as Greencoat come to spread their products. As Ms. Potterton describes, many companies end up “paying landfill tipping fees to get their waste taken away,” only to have it sit in a landfill for decades. Instead, she promotes a recyclable, compostable, alternative wax coat, a sustainable alternative that supports a healthy environment. Alongside Greencoat are no shortage of other innovative products you can invest in with a clean conscience.
And you may ask what was my most surprising discovery? Jicama Tortillas! They are fresh, raw wraps made from 100% jicama and don’t break when you bend them. So they are naturally gluten, grain, fat, and daity free and a great replacement for traditional tortialls when you are trying to reduce you carb intake.
And at the end of the day, after we’ve had our fill of kiwi berries, avocados, starfruit, and fresh juice, the best part is none of it goes to waste. The summit donated 312,490 pounds of fresh produce to the New Orleans area food banks, Gulf Coast and Florida hurricane victims.
Next year’s summit will be held in Orlando, Florida and I’m looking forward to attending to share the latest and greatest from the world’s freshest produce and products.
Disclosure: Part of my travel expenses and my attendance were sponsored by Kithen Play on behalf of PMA. I received no other compensation and no requirements that I express a particular point of view