URBANA, Ill. — Adapting to new strategies throughout the pandemic, Illinois' specialty crop producers are pivoting, again. The annual Illinois Specialty Crop Conference will bring Illinois growers together through its new interactive, virtual format on Jan. 6-8, 2021. The conference provides a platform for education, information and networking during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. 

“Illinois specialty crop growers have faced many challenges in the wake of the pandemic,” said Raghela Scavuzzo, executive director, Illinois Specialty Growers Association (ISGA). “Now more than ever our industry has proven to be adaptive and resilient. The ISGA board of directors recognizes the industry need to continue engaging in innovative solutions with our members.” 

The conference will feature two live keynote speakers sharing insights and strategies, a roundtable discussion with live chat features, an engaging networking opportunity brought to us by COUNTRY Financial, and a robust exhibition floor where exhibitors and attendees can share business and industry information. 

Sarah Frey, founder of Frey Farms, will lead the Thursday keynote as she details how her farm operation pivoted during the pandemic. Frey and her family operate farms and facilities in seven states and are headquartered in southeastern Illinois.  

“From farm to store to table, our specialty crop supply chain has been challenged and adapted in 2020 to ensure the delivery of fresh crops here at home and around the globe,” said Frey, who is an author, businesswoman and the country’s top pumpkin seller. “Ours is an industry that requires teamwork, and I am very excited to connect with everyone in our industry. We truly are in this together.” 

The Friday keynote will be led by Chris and Angie Eckert of Eckert’s Country Store and Farms in St. Clair County as they share how their seven-generation family business worked together to respond to COVID-19. The Eckerts operate the largest pick-your-own fruit business in the country. 

All in all, attendees can access three or more lives sessions daily and 60 go-at-your-own-pace virtual sessions. This marks the first time attendees will have access to every conference session and the ability to view content at their own pace. 

All the sessions will be recorded and available through password protected access to attendees after the conference. In addition, there will be fun and interactive activities including virtual games, a scavenger hunt and a virtual swag bag full of materials and giveaways. 

“Members and partners need this opportunity to connect, learn and share,” said Scavuzzo. “COVID-19 has strengthened our commitment to each other and to our communities. A virtual conference is an opportunity to connect every segment of the specialty crop supply chain, from growers, shippers, processors, wholesalers, and distributors to retailers, suppliers, and partners. We are united to address our industry challenges and find solutions.”  

The conference price was reduced to help ensure these educational workshops are easily accessible to our members. ISGA members receive an exclusive rate of $15 per attendee and any non-member can register for the rate of $100 per attendee. ISGA membership is open to everyone, and anyone joining will have access to the reduced fee. All attendees of the virtual conference will also have access to the online conference library following the conference. 

Please note you can register up to four attendees per ISGA membership. Conference registration will close Dec. 28, 2020. 

Conference details and registration may be found at specialtygrowers.org/iscc2021. Contact ISGA at 309-557-2107 or CBlary@ilfb.org for sponsorship and exhibitor opportunities.  

Release provided by ISGA
About the Illinois Specialty Growers Association
: Illinois Specialty Growers Association (ISGA) is an allied member of United Fresh Produce, a national organization representing the produce industry. Founded in 1989, ISGA is a non-profit membership organization supporting and advocating the promotion, research, and education efforts within the specialty crop industry. There are over 3,600 established specialty crop farms utilizing more than 81,250 acres to produce over 472 million dollars in sales annually within Illinois. 

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