The Southeast Produce Council's 14th annual Southern Exposure conference will celebrate "The Magic of Produce" from March 9-11 at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Fla.

"In the produce industry we each have to be our own magician sometimes, depending on what we're challenged with on a day-to-day basis," said Teri Miller, president of the Millen, Ga.-based SEPC. Miller, produce senior category manager for The Fresh Market, Greensboro, N.C., is the SEPC's first female president.

When it comes to magic, the SEPC will pull off a neat trick to get all of its full agenda completed in just three days.

Fun is in store for Southern Exposure's first day. The conference begins March 9 with the annual Tom Page Golf Classic at Disney's Magnolia & Palms Golf Courses.

"At 340 participants, it's the largest golfing event we've ever had," said David Sherrod, SEPC executive director.

"We have two courses booked completely, and we'll use all the carts that Disney has available."

That evening, the STEP-UPP (Southeast Training Education Program for Upcoming Produce Professionals) and STARS (Southeast Top Agricultural Recruits Scholarship) dinner, invitation only, will be held at the Canada Terrace at Epcot.


The exhibition opens in earnest and educational workshops occur on March 10. From 8-9:15 a.m. is the Educational Workshop I: Fresh from the Farm Field Trips. (Story, page B4)

Educational Workshop II features "The Commissioners Corner" and will run from 9:30-10:45 a.m. Five of the 10 state agriculture commissioners included in the SEPC area are scheduled to speak:

  • Adam Putnam, commissioner, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services;
  • Gary Black, Georgia commissioner of agriculture;
  • Steve Troxler, commissioner, North Carolina Department of Agriculture;
  • Hugh Weathers, commissioner, South Carolina Department of Agriculture; and
  • Sandy Adams, commissioner, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

"It is a great honor for us to be able to provide the platform for five commissioners of agriculture to enlighten our attendees on the economic impact of the produce industry within their respective states," said Steve Pinkston, SEPC board secretary and senior sourcing manager for global food sourcing with Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Bentonville, Ark.

"The Southeast region remains one of the most abundant and diverse areas for the production of fresh produce in the U.S. today."

Next year's Southern Exposure show in Tampa, Fla., is scheduled to include the other five commissioners from the SEPC's territory: Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.


The third and final educational workshop will feature award-winning author David Sax, from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

Sax will discuss the "how, what and why" behind food trends, Miller said.

Best-selling author and mountaineer Alison Levine will address the Southern Roots luncheon, from 12:30-2:30 p.m.

"The Southern Roots program is very near and dear to my heart," Miller said.

"The women that make up this group are some of the best and brightest in the industry. Southern Roots has grown by leaps and bounds since we started it in 2014 and continues to grow in numbers, but also in value as each member has something unique to offer."

Friday comes to a rousing end with the opening gala party from 7-11:30 p.m.


On the last day of the show, March 11, Southern Exposure will present the keynote luncheon with speaker Willie Robertson, from 10 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

Robertson is one of the stars of A&E Television Network's "Duck Dynasty," and is CEO of Duck Commander.

Also on Saturday, the exposition's show floor will be open from 12:30-6 p.m. in the Atlantic and Pacific halls.

That evening from 6-10 p.m. is the annual Gator Moon Beach Party, a ticketed event, at Disney's Dolphin Grotto and Beach area.