Elizabeth Nardi brings an enthusiasm for organic agriculture and for people to her role as CEO of Eugene, Ore.-based Organically Grown Co.
Before joining OGC, she spent 14 years with Portland, Ore.-based New Seasons Market, including 10 years in operations leadership. Prior to her tenure at New Seasons, she worked in Washington, D.C., for Sen. Patrick Leahy on the organic, hunger and nutrition provisions in the 2002 farm bill.
Some people see organic as merely a process standard, Nardi said, but to her the label represents much more: a lifestyle that requires a holistic perspective.
“That’s one of the things that fascinates me most and inspires me most about organic growers, that really constantly thinking about how do you keep your ecosystem intact and in balance most effectively to provide the most effective conditions for growing and for crops and for the environment,” Nardi said.
She also appreciates the contribution of organic agriculture to regional food economies and rural communities.
At OGC, helping those producers succeed is her goal.
“My heart and passion really is around finding ways to tell the stories of producers and support them in the marketplace so their businesses can survive and flourish and thrive and also provide end consumers with excellent information about where their food comes from and how it’s grown,” Nardi said, “and give them opportunity to vote with their dollars essentially and make good decisions about supporting the community agriculture that they want to see.”
Her relatively short time with OGC has been action-packed. Last year the company changed its ownership structure, creating what is called a purpose trust. The structure is designed to make permanent the independence of the organization and enable OGC to stay true to its mission.
OGC has also refreshed its strategic planning process, and Nardi has been working on finding and developing the next generation of company leaders.
Nardi aims to lead by hiring the right people, giving them direction and support, and setting them loose, but she also values walking the floor to collaborate and check in with people about their lives.
“What kind of feeds my soul in this work is seeing other people being able to do their best work and achieve, and so for me I think one of the things I’m always just proud of is being able to put together vision,” Nardi said. “I think of myself oftentimes as a facilitative leader.”
Natalie Reitman-White, vice president of organizational vitality and trade advocacy for OGC, also noted Nardi’s focus on people.
“She very much is about using business as a platform for helping transform lives ... ” Reitman-White said.
That focus on people extends beyond the organization as well, said vice president of supply chain management David Amorose.
“Networking in produce is so important,” Amorose said. “It’s all about relationships, and she excels in bringing us together with new ideas, different people, bigger visions.”