Melody Meyer, a resident of California, is a leader in the organic food industry. She is the vice president of policy and industry relations for United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI), the largest organic foods distributor, and executive director of the UNFI Foundation, which funds programs that support development of healthy, organic foods and food practices. She is serving her second term on the board of directors for the Organic Trade Association and sits on the California Department of Food and Agriculture Organic Products Advisory Committee.
In 2013, Melody volunteered on an USAID-funded project to develop Tunisian export-ready organic food firms. Tunisia has used organic production methods for 30 years and the government supports the industry through certifications and research facilities. Melody found Tunisian products to be of superior quality, but the companies lacked direct trade connections to U.S. importers. Melody recruited four North American buyers to visit Tunisia to meet with organic farmers and producers, who were all interested in follow-up contact. Several months later, she helped four Tunisian producers prepare for the Fancy Food Show in New York City.
Drawing on her extensive network, Melody also prepped several more U.S. buyers. Many businesses wanted to meet with her to market their products, and while she could use her industry connections to make appointments, she also worked hard to make sure the producers were prepared, since she was putting her reputation at stake. Melody says “I’m driven to achieve excellence. It was about pride, not just making money. I really wanted to make sure I could make a difference.” The immediate result: at the food shows, Agrumia received orders for four to ten containers of almonds, Herbiotech obtained an agreement for 400 tons of dried herbs, Green Fruit finalized a deal for 250 tons of date powder and Tunihuile closed a deal for 300 tons of organic olive oil valued at $1.2 million. She is still in contact with the Tunisian firms, to whom she continues to pass along leads, and with Tunisian government officials.
Melody has shared her volunteer experiences with people in her company and community, many who had never heard of Tunisia. She has written about it in her blog, which reaches 1,500 people and is often published by Huffington Post. She has hosted dinner parties with Tunisian foods, and will have Tunisian friends at her house this summer. The rewards of her assignment professionally have been significant, giving her a new level of expertise. Personally, she benefitted from engaging with Muslims, recognizing commonalities and leading her to reframe her world view.
If there were more volunteers who got out there and experienced the world, there would be more peace.
– Melody Meyer, volunteer