September 23, 2010

In Today's Issue:
Child Nutrition Bill Critical to Produce Industry, Says United Fresh

United Fresh issued a statement today urging the U.S. House of Representatives to immediately pass the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, legislation that will reauthorize all child nutrition programs. It is critical that all child nutrition programs be reauthorized and signed into law by President Obama before they expire on September 30. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act makes important reforms and strengthens child nutrition programs by investing $4.5 billion in programs to reduce childhood hunger and childhood obesity.

Important provisions in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act reflect United Fresh priorities and recommendations, including an increased reimbursement of $.06 per school lunch, which is tied to serving healthier meals consistent with the Dietary Guidelines, including more fruits and vegetables. This is the first increase in the school lunch reimbursement rate in 40 years. The bill also provides more training for schools to serve healthier meals, strengthens school wellness policies and establishes national nutrition standards for all food and beverages sold in schools. Improving the nutritional quality of school meals and the school food environment is a top public policy priority for United Fresh and is critically important to promoting children's health and reducing risk of obesity. 

"For the last decade, we have been vocal advocates for improving school meals to meet the Dietary Guidelines and for increasing children's access to fresh fruits and vegetables in programs such as the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program," said Dr. Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for United Fresh. "Now, time is running out for Congress to act. Child nutrition legislation is a must-pass for the health and well-being of kids across America. Passage of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act will start to improve children's school meals and snacks right away."

The Senate passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act on August 5 by unanimous consent, receiving praise from United Fresh. The association worked with the Senate Agriculture Committee, congressional leadership and public health advocates to secure passage of the bill. In the past two weeks, United Fresh has stepped up efforts within the fruit and vegetable industry to encourage the House to pass the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, including asking produce industry leaders to urge their members of Congress to vote yes on the legislation, as well as last week's United Fresh Washington Public Policy Conference, which sent 525 produce industry leaders to Capitol Hill to personally meet with House and Senate lawmakers and Obama Administration officials, urging swift passage of the bill.


United Fresh Applauds as Merrigan Announces $55M in Specialty Crop Block Grants

A day after her morning address to the specialty crop industry at the Washington Public Policy Conference, USDA Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced the award of block grants to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops. The funding is designed to address the needs of the specialty crop industry by funding projects in each state that increase public access to and consumption of specialty crops.

Administered by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service, a total of $55 million in grants will fund 827 projects in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The funding represents a 10 percent increase over last year.

"United Fresh applauds today's announcement by Deputy Secretary Merrigan of the full $55 million in specialty crop block grants," said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy at United Fresh. "United Fresh has long supported this funding as an effective and efficient way to enable the fruit and vegetable industry to be more competitive on a local and regional level, thus boosting the industry as a whole."

Notable awards in today's announcement include grants of $17.3 million to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, $4.8 million to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, $3.7 million to the Washington State Department of Agriculture, and $1.8 million each to the Oregon and Texas Departments of Agriculture.

A complete listing of grants and summary of awards can be downloaded at www.ams.usda.gov/scbgp.


United Fresh Urges Gov. Schwarzenegger to Veto California Card Check Bill

A bill that would establish card check as the process for certifying unions of agricultural workers in California has passed through the state Legislature and awaits Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's signature. In response, United Fresh today sent an alert to members encouraging them to reach out to the governor urging him to veto the bill.

"With California being one of the largest economies in the world," said the letter, "providing legitimacy to any version of card check would send shockwaves and set a dangerous precedent from coast to coast that will have dire ramifications."

United Fresh Senior Vice President of Public Policy Robert Guenther said about the bill, "SB1474 represents a direct attack on private ballot elections. The produce industry must show opposition to this legislation because if passed, it will open the floodgates for card check throughout the United States."

For more information, or for assistance in reaching out to Governor Schwarzenegger, please contact Robert Guenther, United Fresh senior vice president, public policy, at rguenther@unitedfresh.org or 202-303-3400.


Administration Officials, Press Roundtable, Media Insight Caps Biggest-Ever WPPC

A Thursday bursting with activity was a fitting end for the 2010 Washington Public Policy Conference, which brought more industry leaders than ever to the nation's capital for three days of education, networking and public policy progress. More than 525 industry members from 35 states participated in the annual event, which kicked off its final day Thursday with addresses from USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, followed by Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius

Merrigan highlighted USDA's role in culturing a greater bond between the industry and consumers through the department's "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" program, and Sebelius spoke on the importance of better and more accountable child nutrition standards, including the large part that healthier foods can play in the prevention facet of the healthcare debate. The secretary also looked to United's A Salad Bar in Every School campaignas an effective strategy ton increase children's consumption of healthy foods.

Following the morning address, attendees had the opportunity to hear from six top national journalists covering food policy issues during the Fresh Press media roundtable. NPR's April Fulton, Bloomberg's Alan Bjerga, Philip Brasher of the Des Moines Register, Tribune Co.'s Andy Zajac, Christopher Doering of Reuters, and Mike Doyle of McClatchy Newspapers discussed the benefits of fostering more open lines of communication between the produce industry and the national media not only during times of crisis, but also during times of success.

Finally, the annual gathering drew to a close with an entertaining lunch headlined by author and political strategist Frank Luntz. In addition to professing his love of fruits and vegetables, Luntz dazzled attendees with a word-by-word breakdown of what concepts resonate most with the voting public during an election cycle

A complete recap including photos of the 2010 Washington Public Policy Conference can be found here, and video highlights from WPPC are available at www.unitedfresh.tv.


GAPs Harmonization Addresses Scalability of Standards

United Fresh Senior Vice President of Food Safety and Technology Dr. David Gombas spoke during the National Good Food Network's monthly food safety webinar this month, talking about the Produce GAPs Harmonization Initiative and what it means to small growers.

"The Technical Working Group was always aware that the harmonized standard would need to work for family operations as well as large corporate farms, diverse crop farms as well as single commodity operations," said Gombas. "The objective was to reduce the audit burden on operations while providing a comprehensive tool to measure food safety practices. The standard is also designed to accept equivalent food safety practices and not dictate how an operation controls the safety of its produce. For example, it is as applicable to organic operations as it is to conventional production."

Dr. Gombas' presentation during the webcast, which reached stakeholders as far away as Hawaii and Alaska, was recorded and is available here.  You can read more about the Produce GAPs Harmonization Initiative, as well as review and comment on the current draft standard by clicking here


Deadline Approaching to Volunteer for PTI Working Groups

Industry leaders interested in helping to guide and shape the industry's Produce Traceability Initiative on one of four PTI Working Groups are encouraged to get involved before the fast-approaching September 27 deadline.

Late last month, the four organizations responsible for the initiative - United Fresh, Produce Marketing Association, Canadian Produce Marketing Association and GS1 US - formed four industry-led working groups to guide its activities moving forward. Industry members from across the fresh produce supply chain are still invited to volunteer their time and expertise to one or more of these groups groups.

Available working groups are as follows, each driving key elements of the PTI's work moving forward:

 

  • Implementation Working Group: This volunteer group will guide and promote industry-wide adoption of GS1 standards at the foundation of the PTI, including developing best practices, identifying solutions to implementation issues, and tracking industry implementation.
  • Master Data Working Group: This volunteer group will address issues regarding identifying product attributes, and communicating that data between trading partners.
  • Industry Communications Working Group: This volunteer group will ensure two-way communication between the initiative and industry.
  • Technology Working Group: This volunteer group will provide a forum for technology providers to collaborate to support the initiative.

In addition, volunteers are being sought to participate in PTI-designed pilot projects, or to work with PTI to develop case studies of pilot projects their companies have completed. These volunteers can be at any stage of implementation of PTI milestones.

Interested associations and organizations are also invited to join the PTI's new Industry Association Interest Group, which is being created to allow interested industry associations to participate in the initiative. Volunteers must be members in good standing of CPMA, GS1 US, PMA and/or United Fresh. Every effort will be made to accommodate all volunteers. Interested persons should contact Marlo Bodinizzo of GS1 US via email at mbodinizzo@gs1us.org by September 27. Detailed descriptions of each working group's area of focus can be found on the PTI website at http://www.producetraceability.org/resources_tools/index.cfm.


Meet Your Board of Directors

Roger Pepperl
Marketing Director
Stemilt Growers
Wenatchee, Wash.

How long has Stemilt been in business?

Although our family ownership has been farming on Stemilt Hill in Wenatchee for a century, the company was started in 1964 as a grower.

As a family-run business, what are some of the challenges posed that perhaps you wouldn't deal with in a non-family setting?

The biggest challenge is that we represent not only a business but a family with a personal reputation - the Mathison family. We need to represent the business well but also know that the family behind the business is here for the long haul. 

What values are most central to Stemilt Growers?

Follow the law, team culture, innovation, family-oriented and sustainability.

We work with many people in our business from retailers to government to suppliers to employees. Following the law allows you to never have to look back and question your behavior. We work in a team culture that relies on more than one department or person to get a job done correctly. We have always been an innovative company, which reflects in our growth. We are a family-owned company which reflects in our value of everyone's family who works here. Finally, sustainability has been a part of our business since 1989 when we established our Responsible Choice program.

What are some of the challenges Stemilt has faced in the past year?

Our biggest challenges have been weather (which will never leave us), the economy, which has a big effect on our retail partners and their approach to business, escalating costs of insurance and the labor issue (which we have had a temporary reprieve due to unemployment levels in the U.S.).

In terms of new products, projects or processes, what are you working on?

During the past year we have acquired Dovex, who was our neighbor and a competitor. Dovex has facilities that touch our existing property which has allowed us to consolidate our production facilities and streamline our logistics. Our goal is to reduce the amount of handling, mileage and redundancies that we put into the packing process. Through this acquisition we have consolidated our controlled-atmosphere facilities for stored fruit to have 85% of our fruit within 10 miles of packing. This will result in savings in fuel, labor and equipment. We are also deeply engaged in growing and marketing our Piñata apple which we own the rights to in the U.S. We are continuing to build our reputation, services and programs around being the largest organic tree fruit packer and marketing company in the U.S. Additionally, we believe that the consumer wants organic products more than ever in our history and we need to provide a pathway for this product to succeed in the marketplace.

Of the issues that we deal with as an industry, which strike a chord with you the most and why?

Now that is a tough one. Our sustainability program is probably the answer and I will tell you why. People are our biggest resource and they also are a part of our sustainability program. We focus on people in both our company - labor - and in the community through this program. Food safety is also part of this program as it drives a safe food source as well as increases our quality and reduces costs when done properly. All our products are nutritious and we market our products that way. We also are a large contributor to the Produce for Better Health Foundation who keeps us focused on how our industry faces nutrition and consumption in the U.S.

Given that for many in the industry, "sustainability" is still a somewhat nebulous term, can you tell us what it means for Stemilt? How do you approach being sustainable?

Sustainability is composed of "planet, profit and people," and all three need to come into place. This refers to the environmental concerns of returning things the way they were given you, such as land, water and air. The people is a social matter in regards to treating people right, being community involved and having an overall concern for your most important asset - people. Profit is the thing that is necessary to continue to farm and market, and if you do the other two right, it increases your chances of being profitable.

How does Stemilt interact with the surrounding community, both in a community service sense and in a business sense?

Stemilt is one of the largest employers in our county of Chelan, which of course results in a large impact economically. We provide medical insurance to all our workers which includes an on-premise clinic with is free to our workers. We are a donor to the Washington Apple Education Foundation, through which we sponsor scholarships. We also sponsor the Washington Apple Blossom Parade in Wenatchee which is a huge vehicle of community pride.

As an apple operation in a state so readily identified with that commodity, how else do you culture a Washington State identity? Does that identity come in to play in the form of any locally grown programs?

Stemilt is blessed to farm in eastern Washington as it truly is the best grounds for growing apples in the world. Rather than a locally-grown stance, we regularly communicate the unique 'locale' of where our fruits are grown in order to culture that Washington State identity and share with consumers where and how their foods are being grown. We talk often about how our arid climate and volcanic soils combine to produce crisp, juicy and flavorful apples. We also share pictures and videos via our social media pages in order to bring the farm to the consumer.

What is one thing that your industry peers don’t know about your company?

I often receive inquiries to talk to Mr. Stemilt. Of course our company is owned by the Mathison family but here is a tidbit. "Stemilt" is a Native American word for "foothills." It’s also a region of rich volcanic soil nestled in the Cascade Slopes near Wenatchee where the Mathison family has lived and farmed since 1893. Over 100 years and four generations later, Stemilt means delicious, premium-quality fruit.

Provided we can't talk to Mr. Stemilt, what are some of your personal philosophies and experiences that help to shape your leadership style? What’s one thing about you that your colleagues on the board don't know?

I grew up in a hardworking family as a kid. Today I am lucky enough to have been married to Joni, my wife of 32 years. Joni has made me a stronger person and shares my goals of personal excellence which is a journey. I was a retailer for 21 years and have purchased most products in the produce department at one time or another. I am also the biggest Spartan fan in America as I received my degree in horticulture from Michigan State University.


New Member Welcome

Each week, United Fresh welcomes its newest partners in building a stronger produce industry:

Welcome
  • Laws Logistics, Naples, FL
  • Neogen Corporation, Lansing, MI
  • Peruvian Growers, Inc., Dallas, TX

United Fresh thanks all current members for their dedication to the Association and the produce industry. Please let us know whenever we can be of service to you.  For more details about the benefits of membership, please contact Jeff Oberman at 831-422-0940 or Miriam Miller at 202-303-3410.


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