October 21, 2010

In Today's Issue:

United Urges Cooperation and Clarity in Pesticide Residue Reporting

United Fresh staff met with key officials from USDA, EPA and FDA this week to underscore the need for clear, accurate reporting about pesticide residue monitoring for fresh produce.  The meeting, held at the request of United, focused on how the agencies could work together to ensure that pesticide monitoring data is properly interpreted and understood to accurately convey the safety of fresh produce consumption.

"The produce industry and specific commodities can come under fire in the news media when activist groups spin their own interpretation of the USDA's Pesticide Data Program (PDP) reports," said Ray Gilmer, United's vice president of communications. "These distortions can mislead consumers and erode public confidence in the safety of fresh produce."

Following an analysis of recent PDP data, United Fresh believes the PDP reports, issued annually, are formatted in such a way that they are subject to varying interpretation, thereby allowing for the reports to be used as a basis for alarmist warnings about residues. The federal officials agreed to immediately begin coordinating efforts to clarify PDP report conclusions and address any misinterpretations or gaps in understanding.

"These three federal agencies share responsibility for ensuring a safe fresh produce supply and for communicating accurate information about our produce, and all are in agreement that the overall message from the latest PDP reports is that there is absolutely no risk in consumption of any fresh produce," said Rob Neenan, vice president of environmental affairs and sustainability at United.

The meeting follows an industry leadership discussion with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson over the summer, and further industry dialogue during United's Washington Public Policy Conference, about the need for increased communication outreach from the federal government.

"We are gratified that officials from EPA, USDA and FDA have committed to working with United to address our concerns about pesticide residue misinformation,” said United’s Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy. “There is a scientifically valid registration process in place to ensure the safe use of all crop protection materials for fruits and vegetables, and we need for that process to be understood and defended."

For more information, contact United's Rob Neenan at 202-303-3400, ext. 427.

C.H. Robinson Helps St. Paul Students Enjoy Fresh Fruits and Vegetables with New Salad Bars

From left, Community of Peace Academy Principal and Founder Karen Rusthoven, C.H. Robinson Senior Vice President of Produce Jim Lemke and Director of Nutrition Services for St. Paul Public Schools Jean Ronnei at the ceremony announcing C.H. Robinson's donation of salad bars to 3 St. Paul schools this week.

On Tuesday, C.H. Robinson Senior Vice President for Produce and United Fresh Immediate Past Chairman Jim Lemke celebrated the donation of three new salad bars to St. Paul-area charter schools at a "passing of the tongs" ceremony at Community of Peace Academy. Jim presented the new salad bar to Principal Karen Rusthoven. St. Paul Public Schools Director of Nutrition Services Jean Ronnei, United Fresh Vice President of Nutrition and Health Dr. Lorelei DiSogra and representatives from the offices of Senators Al Franken (D-MN) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN) also spoke at the event. 

In support of United Fresh Foundation's A Salad Bar in Every School campaign, C.H. Robinson has donated salad bars to three St. Paul Charter Schools: Community of Peace Academy, the Harambee Community Cultures/Environmental Science School and the Achieve Language Academy. Almost all of the St. Paul schools already had salad bars and with the donation of these three new salad bars, according to Ronnei, they have now accomplished their goal of having a salad bar in every school that they service.

"In many school districts, affording the necessary equipment to serve fresh fruits and vegetables is a challenge," said Lemke. "Through the A Salad Bar in Every School campaign, we were happy to step in to help. These three salad bars are the first part of our three-year commitment to help the United Fresh Foundation get salad bars in schools across the country."

The new salad bars have also already garnered a lot of attention. Both Lemke and DiSogra appeared live on two local morning television broadcasts, and the Twin Cities' FOX affiliate, KSMP, covered the dedication ceremony at the school. Video of Lemke can be found here and video of DiSogra can be viewed here.

United has pledged to donate 1,000 salad bars to schools over the next three years to support First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign. To date, fifty salad bars have been donated to schools nationwide.

For more information about how your company can get involved in the A Salad Bar in Every School campaign, contact Claudia Wenzing, United Fresh vice president of business development at 202-303-3400, ext. 415.

Salad Bar Highlighted as USDA's Merrigan Presents Award to DC Elementary School

United Fresh Senior Vice President of Public Policy Robert Guenther walks USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan through the new salad bar at River Terrace Elementary School last Friday.

The United Fresh Foundation's A Salad Bar in Every School campaign was in full swing last Friday when USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan presented River Terrace Elementary School with their Gold-level recognition in the HealthierUS School Challenge.

Representatives from United Fresh were in attendance at the awards ceremony to congratulate Principal Shannon Foster and show Deputy Secretary Merrigan the school's new salad bar, made possible by Dole Food Company's generous contribution to the A Salad Bar in Every School campaign. River Terrace is one of the seven elementary schools in Washington that have received salad bars from the A Salad Bar in Every School campaign. The school also participates in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program.

"River Terrace is an excellent example of a school that has used their salad bar to further their goals of creating a healthier school environment," said Robert Guenther, United Fresh senior vice president of public policy, who personally escorted Deputy Secretary Merrigan to the salad bar. "Students can choose a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables each day now, and when I visited they were able to choose from spinach, carrots, green bell peppers, tomatoes and several other options."

For more information about how your company get can involved with the A Salad Bar in Every School campaign, contact Claudia Wenzing, United’s vice president of business development at 202-303-3415.

DC Schools Begin the School Year with New Salad Bars Thanks to Dole

Dole's Marty Ordman, seated, talks with students at River Terrace Elementary in Washington, DC, about healthy eating and the school's new salad bar, donated courtesy of Dole and United's A Salad Bar in Every School campaign.

A River Terrace Elementary student enjoys a fresh salad from the school’' new salad bar, donated courtesy of Dole and United’s A Salad Bar in Every School campaign.

Dole Vice President of Communications Marty Ordman, accompanied by United Fresh Vice President of Nutrition and Health Dr. Lorelei DiSogra and Policy and Grassroots Manager Andrew Marshall and DC Public School officials, visited DC's River Terrace Elementary School, Browne Education Campus and Walker-Jones Education Campus to talk with principals, cafeteria managers and students about how they like their new salad bars, which the schools began using last week thanks to Dole's contribution to United's A Salad Bar in Every School campaign. At one of the schools, a group of enthusiastic students told Ordman they loved their new salad bar and talked about all the veggies they were eating.  

To date, Dole has donated salad bars to three public schools and one charter school in Washington, DC. Dole has committed its first two years of funding to help elementary schools in DC implement salad bars, launching kids on a lifetime of healthy choices.   

Later today, Dole will host USDA officials and the media at CentroNía's DC Bilingual Public Charter School in Washington. The event will highlight Dole's commitment to donating salad bars to DC schools and the impact that salad bars are having on increasing student's fruit and vegetable consumption. DC Bilingual received their salad bar last spring and it has been a big hit with students and teachers. Scheduled to speak at the event is Julie Paradis, USDA Food and Nutrition Service Administrator as well as DC-based celebrity chefs Cathal Armstrong and Spike Mendelsohn.

Check back soon with Inside United Fresh for pictures from this event.

GAPs Harmonization Goes Global

United Fresh Senior Vice President of Food Safety and Technology Dr. David Gombas and Chiquita/Fresh Express' Sharan Lanini at the 2010 GlobalGAP Summit in London.
The presence of a clear opportunity to combine the harmonized standard with the GlobalG.A.P audit process for use in North America was the key message from United Fresh Senior Vice President of Food Safety and Technology Dr. David Gombas at the 2010 GlobalG.A.P Summit in London this month.

Speaking alongside Chiquita/Fresh Express' Sharan Lanini, Gombas described to the nearly 500 delegates the objectives and process for the Produce GAPs Harmonization Initiative.

"Prior GAP harmonization initiatives like GlobalG.A.P have only been partially successful in the U.S. because there was not enough participation from the produce supply chain in determining the expectations," said Gombas."“Today, the Produce GAPs Harmonization Initiative has completed drafting audit standards for field operations and harvesting applicable to all fresh fruits and vegetables grown in the U.S., and perhaps North America. GlobalG.A.P, on the other hand, has an audit process that is recognized by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) and customers around the world."

In order to leverage each other's strengths, United Fresh has agreed to serve as host to GlobalG.A.P's North America National Technical Working Group, whose role will be to develop a National Interpretation Guideline for GlobalG.A.P audits in North America.

Meanwhile, United Fresh and the Produce GAPs Harmonization Initiative will continue to work with other audit organizations to adopt the harmonized standard.

Please contact Gombas for more information about the GlobalG.A.P National Technical Working Group or the Produce GAPs Harmonization Initiative at 202-303-3400, ext. 411. 

Barrier to PTI Milestone 7 Overcome as PTI Leadership Council Meets

The newly-formed Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) Leadership Council met last week in Orlando to begin implementing the industry-led management structure for the initiative moving forward.

United Fresh President and CEO Tom Stenzel and Vice President of Supply Chain Management Dan Vaché participated in the group's organizational meeting, which included an orientation to the PTI’s new governance structure, including working groups that will involve numerous companies in hands-on details of PTI implementation. Co-chairs of the new working groups discussed each group's mission and provided updates on their groups' initial meetings.

"This was an important step to ensure more widespread industry participation and transparency," Stenzel said. "There was good, candid discussion among Leadership Council members about the complexities, financial commitments and timing of various steps. While the PTI roadmap is clear, all agreed that only industry involvement and leadership will drive the initiative forward."

A good example of an industry-developed solution to a thorny problem was presented to the council in a proposal from the Implementation and Technical Working Groups to facilitate tracking of cases outbound from distribution centers to individual stores.  According to Vaché, many distribution centers now use “voice pick” systems to maximize warehouse efficiencies.  In order for GTIN case labeling to be functional with voice pick systems, the council adopted the open-source Cyclic Redundancy Check (CRC) 16 algorithm to calculate a voice pick code to be added to all case labels.

"This is an important solution that will allow tracking of outbound cases in a voice-directed picking system," Vaché said.

The Implementation Working Group will conduct pilot tests and develop best practices to aid industry in implementing this "PTI voice pick code" solution.

The Leadership Council will meet every other month, with the next meeting scheduled for early December. For more information on the Leadership Council, contact Vaché at 425-629-6271 or visit www.producetraceability.org.

Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee Members Meet with Senior USDA Staff on Labor Issues

Last week, United Fresh Senior Vice President of Public Policy Robert Guenther, along with staff from the Agriculture Coalition on Immigration Reform (ACIR) and the National Council of Agricultural Employers (NCAE) briefed members of the USDA Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee Labor Working Group prior to a key meeting with officials from USDA and the White House.

The meeting of the Labor Working Group was organized to discuss ways the department can help address labor-related issues impacting agricultural employers along with the impact that healthcare reforms could have on produce companies across the country.

Former United Chairs Maureen Torrey of Torrey Farms and Tom Lovelace of McEntire Produce, along with United member Allen Hardison from Jacob Farms/Del Cabo, Inc. attended the briefing at United's headquarters.

"I think this meeting was a great example of how the Advisory Committee is serving as an important voice before key officials at USDA and the White House for the produce industry," said Guenther.

In 2001, United Fresh led a successful effort to formalize an industry advisory committee at USDA and then urged current USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to re-charter the committee last year.

"Having the leadership of United Fresh members such as Maureen, Tom and Allen on this committee is a critical tool for our daily work in DC on issues such as reforming our immigration laws and health care," said Guenther.

For more information on the meetings and on the Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee, contact Guenther at 202-303-3400, ext. 409.

USDA Announces $4M in Grants Aimed at Food Deserts, New Farmers, Professional Development

In an effort to facilitate and increase access to foods and bring additional income opportunities for producers, USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced recipients of the 2010 Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) late last week. As part of the new funding, 77 grants were awarded in 34 states for a total of $4,099,897.

"This year's farmers market awards will help strengthen local food systems and rural economies in communities nationwide," Merrigan said. "Many of these projects support increasing access to healthy foods in underserved communities or food deserts by creating direct-to-consumer marketing channels and making electronic benefits transfer (EBT) available in farmers markets."

As part of the grants, more than one million dollars will go to new EBT projects, with another eight projects receiving an additional $235,103 in support of existing EBT projects. The use of EBT technology helps increase access to locally-grown fresh fruits and vegetables by low-income consumers using funds provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program, and the Farmers Market Nutrition Program.

Also funded by the grants are a number of projects supporting low-income consumer access to fresh, local foods are five urban "food deserts." A key priority for USDA and the Administration is increased access to fresh, healthful foods in "food deserts" in the U.S. - areas with few, if any, grocery stores or nearby sources of affordable, fresh fruits and vegetables.

In an effort to improve rural economies, over 60 percent of monies awarded will fund projects that recruit and train the next generation of small farmers, including first-time and  immigrant farmers, as well as farmers from under-served populations. These projects will include training in subjects ranging from conservation management and growing practices, to accepting electronic benefits transfer (EBT) payments, to on-line marketing will help keep rural America prosperous.

An additional 28 percent of the awards will offer further professional development opportunities for farmers to strengthen their business management skills, including training in risk management, certification, and good agricultural practices.

More information on the grants can be found at www.ams.usda.gov/FMPP.

Meet Your United Fresh Board - Southern California Native Puts New Spin on Locally Grown, Targets Workplace for Boosting Produce Sales

Emily Fragoso
Marketing Manager
Coast Produce Company
Los Angeles, CA

Coast Produce’s Emily Fragoso, right, with fellow Leadership Class 16 member Nina Brooks of H. Brooks & Co. during this year’s salad bar cruise at the Washington Public Policy Conference.

Where are you from originally?

I am from Southern California originally and I grew up in Whittier. Interestingly, though, most of my family is split between Thailand and in South Bend, IN. My mom is a Polish, Midwestern gal and my dad is from Thailand and moved here in the 1960's. My dad found a job in the school district as a utility worker, and my mom was an artist and still works for the state of California as a rehabilitation counselor.

With a family in Indiana, California and Thailand, what kept you in Los Angeles as a grownup?

Being from this area, what kept me here has been my family and the fact that I love L.A. and Southern California. I Live in Orange County and work in Los Angeles County and my husband is from the Bakersfield/Delano area in central California. We met right out of college, so once we settled in Orange County, it has really been the community and family that has kept us there.

As a wholesaler and a native in a town with a great food culture like Los Angeles, how has your company endeavored to embrace the locally grown discussion?

I came on Coast three years ago and early in my tenure, I created the Farmer's Select marketing program. During the information gathering part of forming the Farmer's Select program, I found that the locally grown definition doesn't need to be tied to mileage at all. California is such a neat place and so diversely unique in what we can offer - and as a wholesaler distributor we can offer anything - that we have developed a program that focuses on telling the story of the grower, rather than his or her location. It's been at the heart of the program since we've began, communicating about the grower, the region and the product. That's what customers want to hear, that's what makes it authentic, hearing those grower and farmer voices and feeling a connection to the product. I think that's what makes California so great, is having the ability to hear those stories, whether they're 10 miles away or 300 miles away.

What are you working on right now?

Currently we're working on a project called Crave At Work, that delivers fresh fruit and vegetable snacks to corporate offices. We know that you want a snack at your desk, and so you reach for that bag of Doritos because it's consistently good and you know what you're going to get. But what if you could get a natural fruit or vegetable product that you knew was reliably tasty, and would satisfy those work cravings nutritiously? That's where Crave At Work comes in. In the process of developing that program, we've realized that deep down, we're all produce nerds. As we've embraced that, we have focused the program on its main character, the Produce Professor, one of our procurement guys here at Coast, a long-time produce veteran and a veritable wealth of information about fruits and vegetables. Through the professor, we want to spread the expertise gained from being able to touch and taste and feel these different commodities every day. We've got all this knowledge and information and consumers are really ready to eat up.

You mention that you're a produce nerd. What is it about your background that pushed you in that direction?

I'm an industry oddball in that I don't come from an ag background, except for the fact that my family always made the effort to have fresh fruits and vegetables around. I think part of that has a lot to do with my heritage, being half Asian, my mom always made it a priority to serve fresh meals. Academically, my Bachelors is in communications with an emphasis in public relations, and my Masters is in American studies. At 22, I got my first job in the industry right out of college for the Fresh Produce and Floral Council. Before graduating, however, I did a great deal of volunteer events and promotional planning work in college for the local public radio station as well as the nearby city of Brea. Through my time with FPFC, I met so many people in sales, marketing, wholesale, distribution, growing and shipping, retail, foodservice. You see everyone under the sun and people are so willing to mentor you.

You're very involved in the industry including service on the United Fresh Board, Member Relations Task Force and Produce Industry Leadership Program, but what do you do when you’re not at work?

I love fitness, and I try to accomplish fitness goals. I try to run, I hike, I read, I love cooking. My husband and I do a lot of things together, including being nerdy, which explains our membership in Toastmasters. We do a lot of speaking together, and it enables us to be silly with each other, and more importantly it allows me to make fun of my husband.

Aside from Toastmasters, what's something that your fellow board members or leadership classmates don’t know about you?

When I went back to Cal State Fullerton to get my Masters, I hosted a radio show called Encounters. As part of the show, I'd find various members of the community at all levels and try to get their individual outlooks on life, perspective on current events, and more. It was something that I really loved primarily because I loved talking to people. I think that folks have a wonderful story to tell if you simply take the time to ask. I think in the long run, that's something I get a lot of roasting for from my friends: the amount of questions I ask. I can't help it, though. It's so interesting and I love it.

You're among the youngest members of the board of an association that's been around in one form or another since 1904. How does age and experience play into your professional outlook?

I think that age, sometimes, is used as an excuse and I don't think it needs to be. I think that people old or young have so much to give and I feel like as long as you do a good job, work hard and hold yourself accountable to a higher standard, it just doesn’t matter.

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