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by Bruce Grim

Happy 104th birthday to the Washington State Horticultural Association! Anything one hundred years old or older in the Pacific Northwest is noteworthy for us and rather ho-hum for the rest of the world. Longevity has much to do with delivering value, changing with the needs of your industry, and fiscal prudence. It has much to do with ever-changing boards of directors and executive directors who have continually defined, and redefined, the mission of the organization in the context of the needs of our industry. And just as important as defining the direction is creating the means necessary to allow the achievement of those defined ends.

While 104 years is good, it is not 150 years. Is time—longevity—a good measure of the success or worth of an organization? If you are (were) Lehman Brothers, the answer is a resounding “No.” At age 148 or 149, Lehman Brothers probably were pretty full of themselves, supremely confident that getting it right for all those years was assurance that they would be around for many, many more years.

So, what has the Hort Association done right for 104 years? What must it do to insure 104 years more? Good questions, with no easy answers.

If one was pressed to come up with a single word or concept that best defines our industry, it would be change or the willingness to embrace innovation. To which your response is, “Well, duh?!” Not only has it been done in the orchard, where you are most familiar with it, and in the warehouse, where technology has truly changed the way your fruit is handled, but also amongst your industry leaders.

In the Hort Association executive director’s office is a set of the proceedings of our annual meetings dating back to 1921. It is an archive of the issues and the personalities that have made us what we are today. A random review of one volume for each decade from the 1920s up through the first decade of the twenty-first century tells us much about how we have changed as an industry in many ways, from production to storage/packing to postharvest issues to marketing. Embracing innovation and change is the thread that runs through and connects the decades as surely as one car of a train is connected to the other. And what fascinating reading and historical perspective comes from reading these old proceedings.

My guess is that, absent the leadership and the vision provided by the scores of individuals who have served as directors and the handful of folks who have served as executive director, the Hort Association might well have been consigned to the historical slag-heap of outdated organizations that were simply no longer relevant to the significant issues of the day.

The challenge that the association has met so well is to provide direction and leadership as the successive waves of innovation swept over our industry. And that is the precise challenge that will determine our success as we press ahead into the next decade of this new century and beyond. Legislative affairs and education programs will continue to be the heart and soul of what the association does; there is little likelihood of that changing in the near term. How relevant those programs are to the needs of our constituents will prove vital to our longevity. The extent to which we develop synergies with our industry partners will also prove critical as we are talking about utilizing scarce resources to fund/drive these programs.

If the association remains relevant, it will be here for many years to come. Credit the leadership upon whose shoulders we stand for the past successes; the challenge upon the current team truly is sustainability!