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Industry Viewpoint: Virtual advocacy

unfre323To say there is a lot at stake for the produce industry during an election year in the midst of a global pandemic is not an exaggeration. United Fresh Produce Association has been guiding the industry through this year’s unpredictable and uncharted territory since March and will continue to do so as we head to the polls on Nov. 3.

United Fresh works to shape legislative, regulatory, political and legal solutions to challenges threatening the industry’s growth and profitability, while providing the strongest possible voice for the produce industry in Washington, DC and beyond. Each year, the United Fresh Washington Conference gathers the industry to amplify one voice to Capitol Hill, sharing how their actions directly impact our businesses. This September, they will host the Washington Conference virtually on the United Fresh LIVE! 365 platform. Hundreds of industry leaders will gather online to share the importance of our essential industry’s impact on jobs, growth, and meeting America’s need for food and nourishment.

“It is vitally important that we continue to bring our industry’s issues to the forefront for our congressional representatives, especially with the effects of the pandemic and the upcoming election,” said Jackie Caplan Wiggins, vice president and COO of Frieda’s Inc.

The industry will “visit” Capitol Hill from their desks this fall during the event to virtually advocate collectively. What will that look like?

Before the conference: Prepare thoroughly
Our advocacy work begins long before logging into Zoom meetings with Congressional offices. Through a series of pre-event webinars, United Fresh will prepare us by providing updates on key issues, techniques on how to maximize the impact of your conference experience and the essentials of communicating effectively with members of Congress, specifically in a virtual environment.

Familiarize yourself with your elected officials’ positions on our pressing issues and become aware of our key asks of Congress and noteworthy statistics that summarize their impact. Visit the websites of the members of Congress you will meet with, for their key committees and jurisdiction. The more you know in advance, the more productive your meetings will be.

During the conference: Unite, impact and engage
As with any virtual event, staying engaged is strategy number one. Find a professional environment to present yourself during Congressional meetings, and the numerous general sessions, workshops and networking events that United Fresh is hosting throughout the week. Although the education of the event takes place Sept. 21-25, the virtual Congressional Meetings will take place beginning on Thursday, Sept. 24, and continue through Friday, Oct. 2. While these meetings can be convenient, it can be easy to get distracted by other work priorities. Consider yourself “out of office” during the meetings by signing out of email and focusing only on the meeting itself. The impact will be evident.

“The entire produce supply chain is heavily affected by the decisions made in our nation’s capital,” said Mike McGee, vice president of finance for L&M. “United’s Washington Conference is the single best platform for us to share our personal stories so they resonate throughout the halls of Congress.”

After the Conference: Continue advocating
Advocacy doesn’t end when your virtual congressional meetings are over. Following the event, advocacy resources will continue to be available on the United Fresh LIVE! 365 platform. Log back in at any time to catch any of the action you may have missed during the event.

“Following up with members of Congress with more of your unique and compelling stories by phone or letter can be very effective in continuing to shape stances on issues,” said Raina Nelson, executive vice president of business development for Renaissance Food Group.

(Ben Massoud is the communications manager for the United Fresh Produce Association)

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