By Samantha Lamanna

A thousand voices talk at once. Only one cuts through my daydreaming. A woman says: “Boarding will now begin for our flight to Orange County, California, for groups …” Note to self as I grab my duffel bag: get tons of samples, do everything on my list, don’t panic if I don’t, and … is this event anything like Lollapalooza?

As you can see, my inaugural trip to Natural Products Expo West began with nervous anticipation. The sheer number of people made me not want to go: 85,000 attendees and more than 3,500 exhibitors. Quickly, though, it became one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in my four-year career.

Learning about irrigation techniques in Brazil.

You might even say Expo West was a bit nostalgic.

It reminded me of why I loved shoving tiny seeds into dirt when I was a kid and watching them “magically” grow. Why I chose a degree in environmental and natural resources engineering from Purdue. Why I once designed a trout stream and spent a summer collecting soil samples in Brazil to study irrigation.

Natural Products Expo West reminded me — and made me feel proud — for working at a company that believes in people who make and market natural and organic food products.

This is our planet we are talking about. Millennials are known for social activism, but age doesn’t matter when it comes to protecting our earth and the people who live on it.

My first-time jitters were checked when I entered the Anaheim Convention Center because it wasn’t about me and my long list (David, can we pare that to-do list down next year? LOL). I think the show was peaceful and exciting to me because there was a shared energy to improve the world with natural and responsibly created food products.

As I walked the aisles, I felt this mission belonged to everybody there — manufacturers, people in the supply chain, investors, and contract packagers of healthy foods like us.

Philosophy aside, the show was also a giant food festival where you could easily eat yourself into a coma. That was pretty cool too.

To be fair, I’m probably on the “lower end” of titles compared to many people who attended the show. I liked the fact that no one cared. I think this is a great aspect of our industry. We support each other. It’s more equitable than careers some of my friends work in.

Not to offend anyone (because I think this is really a compliment) but the natural food space was started by people who were considered hippies and tree huggers. Thank goodness. To them, earth and people outweighed money and prestige. An April 2017 New York Times article on healthy food trends describes it like this: “The hippies may not have won the election, but they are winning the plate.”

That’s the spirit I found at Natural Products Expo West too. I left our midwest office walls and walked into a world of people supporting good companies with good intentions.

There is little prejudice about size at the show, and I found that really interesting. Small companies with a lot of heart and investment on the line generously gave away samples. Their simple signage stood on equal footing, in my opinion, to the bigger companies; there was a common mission.

People talked about moving the industry forward, growing it like we own it together, partnering with each other to bring out the best in our products. And, through great speakers and thoughtful conversations, we talked about collective goals like regenerative farming and solving the serious issues behind climate change and conservation of natural resources.

It reminds me of sports teams I’ve been on and charities I’ve believed in. These types of activities come down to relationships, culture, values, beliefs.

On Climate Day, which was midweek during the show, I heard a line-up of people, many from brand name products sitting in my kitchen cabinets back home, who are pushing forward. The healthy foods industry is driving the rest of the food industry. Isn’t that amazing? It may not be the cheapest way to make or package a product, but it is making a difference — even if it costs more, even if it is risky.

The extreme sense of community that I experienced is what I believe will drive serious change in our world. It was interesting to see all these folks as part of a larger movement, people who are really changing the status quo (note to self: always be part of something bigger than myself).

Gina McCarthy at Climate Day 2018.

The keynote for the Climate Day event was Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. (I linked her speech here so you could see it.) She made a big impression on me because she pointed out that “You have to pay attention to who your customers are and where you are in the world and what’s important to you.” I agree. A huge part of our jobs is understanding each of our customer’s perspectives and using that to grow with them to accomplish our mission. I liked her comment about businesses, too. She said: “The business community is stepping up. Let’s figure out how to do this together. We don’t have time to fight.”

It’s taking the long view. And I’m fine with that because anyone who has ever planted a seed knows that things don’t grow overnight. Going to Natural Products Expo West showed me the why behind our work here at GreenSeed. I can’t wait to go back next year.