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School snack program touted at United workshop

by Brian Gaylord | May 07, 2009
LAS VEGAS -- There is no time like the present to seize the opportunity to provide fresh produce to children in the United States, said members of a United Fresh 2009 workshop panel discussion titled "Turning Policy Victories into Produce Sales -- From WIC to Schools."

On the workshop panel were Ashley Rawl, director of sales and marketing for Pelion, SC-based Walter P. Rawl & Sons Inc.; Donnell Barton, director of the office of child nutrition and school health for the state of Nevada's department of education; and Joan Munckton, director of foodservice for Washoe County School District in Nevada.

The moderator for the discussion was Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for the United Fresh Produce Association. Ms. DiSogra is credited as a driving force behind United's policy victories in adding fruits and vegetables to the federal Women, Infants & Children program and to the success of the Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Snack Program.

The Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Snack Program is a school-based program designed to increase children's consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. Participating schools receive federal funds to provide a fresh fruit and/or vegetable snack to all students for free every day at school.

The United Fresh Produce Association was the leader in advocating for Congress to expand the Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Snack Program nationwide in the 2008 farm bill, which provides $1.2 billion in mandatory funding over the next 10 years to implement the snack program nationwide. This federal funding is available only to elementary schools in which 50 percent or more of its students are eligible for free or reduce-priced meals.

Participating elementary schools receive between $50 and $75 per student per year to offer students a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables as snacks. The mid-morning snack involves about 20 minutes of classroom time.

The Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Snack Program has been operating as a pilot program since 2002. This provision of the farm bill allows all states to bring more fruits and vegetables to their schools.

Walter P. Rawl & Sons Inc. is a grower, packer, processor and distributor of items such as leafy greens, sweet corn and squashes. Mr. Rawl said that grower-shippers could get in the mix with school systems by approaching school superintendents or school foodservice managers. In addition to providing fresh produce to more children, providing product for the Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Snack Program enables suppliers to impart some education to school children and teachers on produce production cycles and issues such as food safety, he said.

Walter P. Rawl & Sons has played a role in introducing children to fresh produce in South Carolina, according to Mr. Rawl.

"Kids haven't seen some of these produce items," he said, adding that the children then tell their parents. The desired impact -- and what is showing to be true -- is that parents start making better food choices for their children. In October, Nevada elementary schools learned that they would receive more fresh fruits and vegetables with help from the Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Snack Program, backed by an additional $500,000 obtained in the farm bill by U.S. Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV). Ms. Barton said that last year, 190 schools in Nevada were eligible for a grant under the Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Snack Program. For schools taking part, the program launched this past January.

A few of Nevada's school districts are among the larger in the nation. The state has "diverse population centers" and depends on federal funding, Ms. Barton said. "Kids who are fed will do better in school."

Ms. Munckton said that many of the fruits in the Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Snack Program are "above what you'd get in a school [lunch] program." There's some resistance to the program, such as from teachers thinking that certain fruits will be too messy for their classroom.

"Once you get past the barriers, it does work," Ms. Munckton said. There is flexibility in the program as well: Purchasing can take place at the district level or each school can make its own decisions.

"Schools can change who they buy from," Ms. Munckton said.