The Bland Farms team stands with SpongeBob at Fresh Summit 2019 after announcing a partnership with the brand for the upcoming Vidalia onion season.
( Ashley Nickle )

Since April 1, Produce Marketing Association members have been coming together nearly every Wednesday at noon for a Virtual Town Hall meeting.

Called the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Virtual Town Hall Series, the recurring event has allowed PMA members to connect when no in-person gatherings are possible.

“We actually started virtual town halls because our membership was saying, ‘We need a way to connect,’” CEO Cathy Burns said. 

The Virtual Town Hall series delivers content in a streamlined fashion.

“We needed a way to keep the community together during these very difficult times, and so out of that member feedback, every Wednesday at noon Eastern we bring the world together to talk about different topics that are on our members’ minds,” she said.

Topics for the series are typically worked out in six- to eight-week chunks.

“The (series) targets different audiences different weeks, based on the topic,” she said. 

“It’s been so heartwarming to see members stepping up and helping other members.”

Many PMA members have served as panelists for the virtual events, Burns said, and shared experiences on what is working in their operations and what they are thinking for the future.

“The ability for people to give so freely of their knowledge and experience to the rest of the industry in the spirit of members helping members has been phenomenal,” Burns said. 

In addition to the virtual town hall series, PMA has produced content on its website that it is sharing with its members.

For example, PMA’s Takes on Tech podcast, hosted by vice president of technology Vonnie Estes, has more than 10,000 downloads for the six shows produced so far, Burns said.

Whether the digital content has been web seminar or podcast, or something else, she said it has met member needs.

“The beauty of a trade association is to accomplish things that no single company can accomplish on their own,” she said. 

“By aggregating the collective genius of our members and packaging it in a way that’s digestible, has been incredibly successful.”

Burns said PMA has also collaborated with other trade associations to present web seminars and other digital content.

“I strongly believe that collaboration is the new currency,” Burns said. 

That can be done Burns with members across the supply chain and around the world, in addition to leaders in non-produce sectors that have best practices to share and lesson to teach, she said. 


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