November 18, 2010

In Today's Issue:

As Food Safety Bill Moves to Debate, United Fights for Consistent Risk- and Science-Based Standards

The Senate invoked cloture Wednesday to move forward with debate on the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510). During debate on the bill, the Senate will consider a provision that would exempt certain segments of the food industry including food facilities and farm operations from requirements for basic food safety standards, prompting a swift reaction from United Fresh Senior Vice President of Public Policy Robert Guenther.

"The fresh produce industry strongly supports the modernization of federal food safety laws and has supported legislation both in the House and Senate for the last several years along these lines. In fact, United Fresh has testified more than a dozen times before congressional committees advocating for this historic reform to move forward," said Guenther. "Unfortunately, the Senate may undermine this effort by including language in the final bill that would exempt certain sectors of the food industry based on geographic location, size of operation and to whom they sell their products. Supporters of this effort have portrayed these exemptions as protecting small businesses, that locally-grown commodities are somehow safer, or that federal government standards are not adequate. Nothing could be further from the truth.

"The fact remains that when a food safety incident occurs, farmers, wholesalers, distributors and retailers - regardless of size - suffer significant economic hardships. Most importantly, the vast majority of businesses who suffer these hardships have nothing to do with any single food safety incident. In addition, small and local food operations have been associated with a number of food safety incidents and recalls over the last decade and are not immune simply based on size of operation, distance to the consumer or commodity type."

The cloture motion was passed on a vote of 74-25. The Senate will now move forward with up to 30 hours of debate on this bill before it is brought up for final passage. Guenther stressed the need for the industry to work together on food safety matters.

"Statements were made indicating that fresh produce would be covered under this bill and consumers could be more confident in their food supply," Guenther said. "Unfortunately, consumers will be left vulnerable to the gaping holes and uneven application of the law created by these exemptions if the amendment is passed. An effective food safety program in the United States is a shared responsibility and each of us has to do our part whether we are a producer, processor, retailer, foodservice provider or a consumer. This also means that Congress needs to do its part by supporting a uniform food safety bill that will enhance food safety for citizens of this country and reject arbitrary exemptions that pick winners and losers."

Please stay connected with United Fresh at www.unitedfresh.org or contact us at 202-303-3400 for additional information on the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.


High Visibility for Child Nutrition Bill This Week; Vote Expected After Thanksgiving

Monday kicked off a week of high visibility for the child nutrition bill, with more than 1,300 advocates from across the country joining USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-CA) for a national Child Nutrition Virtual Town Hall Rally. This was followed by two widely-attended briefings for Capitol Hill staff on Monday. United Fresh thanks Congressman Adam Putnam (R-FL) and his legislative director, Karen Williams, for hosting one of the child nutrition briefings, which included speakers from Mission Readiness, the American Heart Association, the American Beverage Association and the School Nurses Association.

Also on Monday, three of the House's strongest supporters for child nutrition, Chairman Miller, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA), sent a letter of support to members of their caucus urging swift passage of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act. United Fresh and other advocates continued to meet with House staff to build broad bipartisan support for the bill.

The week ended with a strategy meeting called by House leadership staff to organize activities starting Monday, November 29 that will get the child nutrition bill across the finish line and to the President’s desk.

"There are still many challenges ahead. Passing anything in a lame-duck session of Congress is challenging, but we are committed to passing the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. This bill is truly historic legislation and will improve the healthfulness of school meals," said Lorelei DiSogra, United Fresh vice president of nutrition. "I encourage all United Fresh members to contact their member of Congress on November 29 and once again urge them to vote "YES" on the child nutrition bill." 

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act will benefit both the produce industry and children nationwide, improving the healthfulness of school meals by increasing the federal reimbursement rate for school lunch by $.06. The increase in the reimbursement rate is tied specifically to serving more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The bill also creates national nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools, providing new marketing and sales opportunities for fresh and fresh-cut fruits and vegetables.

For more information, contact Dr. DiSogra at 202-303-3400, ext. 403.


Report Card Notes Progress and Challenges Toward Increasing Fruit and Vegetable Consumption

Accomplishments toward two of United's top nutrition policy goals over the last five years received "A's" from the National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance (NFVA) in its 2010 Report Card released yesterday. The addition of fruit and vegetable vouchers to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program and national expansion of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable School Snack Program were recognized as success stories for public health. The WIC program now provides more than 9.4 million women and children with monthly vouchers for fruits and vegetables, while the School Snack program reaches more than three million low-income students with a fresh fruit and vegetable snack every day at school.

The Report Card evaluates progress made over the last five years by schools, restaurants, supermarkets and federal and state governments toward meeting goals to close the gap between actual fruit and vegetable consumption and the amount recommended for good health.

"While we're all pleased with the success of these programs, there is still a very long way to go achieve equal success in other areas," said United Fresh Vice President of Nutrition and Health Dr. Lorelei DiSogra.   

"The NFVA report card illustrates the continued need to make our homes, worksites and communities places where the choice of healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables becomes the easiest choice," said Dr. William Dietz, director of CDC's Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity.  

The NFVA consists of 15 public health organizations, consumer groups, industry and government agencies united to promote fruit and vegetable consumption. United Fresh is a member of the NFVA, and is hosting the group's annual fall meeting tomorrow at its Washington, DC headquarters. 


United, Partner Groups Look Forward at Bayer Meeting

United Vice President of Environmental Affairs and Sustainability Rob Neenan discussed sustainability trends in agriculture as part of an industry panel that at the recent Bayer Cropscience National Sales Meeting in Orlando, FL.

Focuses of the session, which also included representatives from the American Farm Bureau, American Soybean Association and McCain Foods, was to discuss how agricultural sustainability may be defined, how it could be measured, and whether this will remain an issue in the future.

Neenan and the other panelists stressed that sustainability programs must be based on sound science, be compatible with conventional agriculture and be implementable in a cost-effective manner. The panel also noted that some environmental and consumer groups continue to criticize farming practices and that agriculture must respond aggressively with a positive message about the great strides that growers have made in enhancing environmental stewardship and increased efficiency.

"Growers can develop sustainability programs to send a positive message about their operation to consumers and other stakeholders," said Neenan, "... and United's Global Center for Produce Sustainability will be providing resources to members to help them achieve that goal."

For more on the meeting, contact Neenan at 202-303-3400, ext. 427

Is Your Company Tackling Sustainability?

United is looking for members who would like to share their work on sustainability and environmental stewardship.  If your company has a great story to tell regarding projects that are saving energy or water, recycling or reducing waste, restoring wildlife habitat, building new partnerships in your community, or other sustainability projects, we want to hear from you!

The stories will be posted on United's Center for Global Produce Sustainability web site, and will be a great opportunity to promote all of the good things that United's members are doing for the environment, their workers, their neighbors and the economy.

For more information about this project or United's Center for Global Produce Sustainability, contact Rob Neenan United's vice president for environmental affairs and sustainability at 202-303-3400, ext. 427.


New York Produce Show Makes Big Impact; Donates Two Salad Bars

Congratulations to the Eastern Produce Council and to Produce Business Magazine for hosting the inaugural New York Produce Show held last week. United Senior Director of Membership Miriam Miller and President and CEO Tom Stenzel attended the show to support members of the local New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania industry.

In addition to putting on a great event for the local community, organizers donated two salad bars to local schools in support of United's A Salad Bar in Every School campaign.

Salad bars will be placed in local schools in cooperation with New York's Hunts Point Terminal Market and the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market.

For more on the event, please visit www.easternproducecouncil.org.


Stenzel Serves as Graduation Speaker for Salinas AgKnowledge Program

United Fresh President and CEO Tom Stenzel told graduating fellows of the Monterey, CA-based AgKnowledge program that the future of agriculture lies in America’s cities and suburbs, rather than in farm communities.

"Less than two percent of Americans are involved in agriculture today," said Stenzel, "... and our future will be determined by voters and opinion leaders in the other 98 percent of the population. You will determine what agriculture in Monterey County and the United States looks like in the years to come."

AgKnowledge is a year-long agricultural educational program for community leaders outside of agriculture, sponsored by the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California Foundation.

"I can't think of a more on-target endeavor than reaching out to non-ag leaders to teach them about the real-world challenges of growing fresh fruits and vegetables," Stenzel said. "It was inspiring to me to sit and talk about our challenges with these community leaders and see the transformation taking place in their understanding and appreciation for what our members do every day to bring the healthiest and greatest-tasting fruits and vegetables to the public. Congratulations to Jim Bogart and the entire Board and staff at the Grower-Shipper Association for hosting this break-through program."

For more on the program, please visit the Grower-Shipper Association at www.growershipper.com.


Webinar Tackles Canada's eManifest Program, United Members Attend Free

United Fresh members will receive free registration for a webinar on the Canadian Border Services Agency's eManifest program hosted by the Canadian Produce Marketing Association on December 1.

"This program will definitely impact the carrier industry, and in turn affect on-time delivery for the industry if the shippers are not prepared," said Bev Appelby, CPMA's government relations and education manager.

As part of a continuing webinar series, the event will address the program, which was recently implemented on November 1. The webinar aims to assist the produce industry and specifically the carrier community with efforts to implement the eManifest program.

The webinar will feature James Spina of the Canadian Border Services Agency's eManifest and Major Projects Directorate and will address key requirements for eManifest compliance, how the elimination of carrier codes is improving border security and the impact on the industry from advance data requirements.

For more information or to register, please click here or contact Appelby at 613-226-4187, ext. 227.


United Fresh Chairman, President Visit with Western Growers

United Fresh Chairman Steffanie Smith, CEO of River Point Farms, and President and CEO Tom Stenzel attended the 85th Annual Western Growers Association convention this week.

"We share a special bond with Western Growers, who share a large number of members with United," Smith said. "It's critical that we work together on the issues facing members of the California and Arizona fruit and vegetable industry."

While now CEO of an Oregon-based onion grower and processor, Smith and her husband Andy live in Salinas, CA, where the Andrew Smith Company has been a long-time member of Western Growers and a pioneer of the bin lettuce market in the late 1970's.

"It was also great to be on hand this year to help honor Milo Ferrini of Bonipak Produce, one of our industry's most respected leaders," Stenzel said.

Ferrini received Western Growers' lifetime achievement award during the convention.


Get a Jump on the New Year with the January Produce Inspection Training

United Fresh delivers 2011's first installment of the produce industry's only USDA instructed inspection training program this January. The extremely popular Produce Inspection Training Program will take place January 10-14 at the USDA Fresh Products Branch National Inspectors Training and Development Center in Fredericksburg, VA. This hands-on training is designed to help produce industry receivers, handlers, buyers, shippers and sellers understand the complexities of the produce inspection process.

The program is offered in two specialized courses: Fundamentals of Produce Inspection and Commodity Labs. The two-day Fundamentals course is a prerequisite to the Labs course and focuses on inspection essentials, PACA, sampling procedures and general market principles. The three-day Commodity Labs course applies the fundamental principles to real world inspections including the five most commonly requested commodities - grapes, lettuces, potatoes, strawberries and tomatoes - and is customized with up to seven additional commodities based on the most common preferences of attendees.

"From growers to retailers, if you receive, handle, buy, ship or sell produce, this course is for you," said Julie Jacocks, United Fresh education manager. "The two-day Fundamentals course provides knowledge that anyone who handles produce needs to have, while the Commodity Labs course enriches and reinforces that knowledge, utilizing hands-on, lab-based training with USDA's own trainers."

Class size is limited and registrations are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. The registration fee for the introductory course is $895, $1225 for the advanced course and $1925 for members for both courses taken together.  If three or more colleagues register for both courses at the same time they each receive a $100 discount.

Click here for and informational flyer on the course and downloadable registration form, or contact Jacocks at 202-303-3400, ext. 405.


Meet Your United Fresh Board of Directors: Board Member Balances Love of Music, Produce, Green Bay Packers

Ron Carkoski
President and CEO
Four Seasons Produce
Ephrata, Pennsylvania


Four Seasons’'Ron Carkoski at the keys of his Schimmel Grand Piano. I call it Dr. Schimmel because it is my therapy and enjoyment.

How does Four Seasons balance its role as a major produce distributor on the East Coast with its identity in the small town of Ephrata?

I think that the landscape here in Ephrata fits our corporate culture just perfectly. Four Seasons has its roots in our founder and owner David Hollinger going down to the Philadelphia Terminal to get product for his parents' market, and gradually other farm markets and small businesses in the area would ask David to pick up this product or that product and bring it back. This area continues to present great opportunities for us in that we're surrounded by farmland and small boroughs, which helps to instill the residents of this area with a great work ethic. Fortunately, we get to draw from that, and it plays very significantly into who we are and what we've developed here. Lancaster County is blessed with having some of the most productive farmland in the country. From commodity crops, dairy and livestock to specialty crops, Lancaster County is productive on the same level as the San Joaquin Valley in California. We've got a tremendous amount of fresh produce grown here in the county, and as part of the whole East Coast cycle, product moves up from Florida in the wintertime, through our area, up to New York and on in to Canada in the late summer. We're blessed to have some very large watermelon growers nearby as well as tomato growers, a variety of cucumbers, peppers, melons, and what’s neat about it is that it all becomes part of what Four Seasons offers in terms of our local product. We also make a great deal of use of the Amish culture here, and it’s not uncommon to find two or three tractor trailer loads waiting in the lot alongside six or eight wagon loads ready to be offloaded. We then use our facilities to make sure that the product adheres to Good Agricultural Practices and is properly sorted and packed, and we move forward.

Are you from the area originally?

No, I was born and raised in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

So I take it you’re a Packers fan?

Absolutely, in fact, I still have the correct-colored Brett Favre jersey up on my wall. I see a lot of wrong-colored ones floating around, but this green and gold one in my office looks great.

How did you make your way out to Pennsylvania?

I had moved the 300 miles from Green Bay up to Superior to work as the director of produce operations for a company up there, staying for just under 11 years. Toward the end of my tenure, the company was purchased and I felt that it was time to move along, as I really liked the family-owned business and the family-owned atmosphere. One of my associates who worked for me at the time as a quality control inspector mentioned that he had found a job out East that he would like to go and check out. Not wanting to stand in the way of his progress I encouraged him to go, and when he returned, he told me that not only was he going to take the job at Four Seasons, but that they were also looking for a person like me to head up the procurement team. So, after a series of conversations with David Hollinger, Four Seasons got a two-for-one package and we both started on December 5, 1994.

Have you always been in produce, or was there another career in a past life?

Actually my college background is music education. It was my major in college and my instruments are piano and organ, as well as a background in voice. During my last semesters in school and immediately following graduation I worked as the head of the music department at a very small Catholic boarding school for men interested in the priesthood in Oneida, Wisconsin. Two years after I started, the school became coeducational, so when the school wanted to put on a musical to bring in some extra revenue, I really had to get creative, as we had no funds to buy the musical books. We ended up having to put on our own musical, and through a lot of writing and thinking up creative ways to trying to fill a two-hour program, we were quite successful. That creativity is essential in today's business environment. Then the game changed as schools began to cut their fine arts budgets. I called my dad who worked for a Midwestern produce company that had a location in Green Bay, and told him that my wife and I were about to get married and that I needed a job. I'd grown up around produce, unloading rail cars, loading trucks, packing product and doing general labor around the warehouse with my brother, so it was a more natural transition than perhaps it might have been had I not had that background.

How do you use that creative ability in your day to day work there at Four Seasons?

What it does is it helps you to envision all the different needs you have in terms of running a business, from understanding the legal and financial aspects to understanding how to work with people and what motivates people. Maestro Benjamin Zander, Ccnductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra calls it the "art of possibility." It gives you a fresh idea on how to approach challenges differently, perhaps, than others do. Just as music lives in the minds and hearts of the listener and opens many different pictures in their minds, leaders are tasked with helping others see the vision in a meaningful and uniquely personal way and then bringing them along on the journey. I also feel that a sense of humor is really important. It certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t take things seriously or make important, difficult decisions, but I think it helps you be accepted a little bit more with the people you’re working with, and it helps give you a broader creative spectrum in which to make those tough decisions.

Your distribution area covers a large portion of the Eastern seaboard, and a few United Fresh staffers see Four Seasons trucks regularly servicing their small neighborhood market in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. With such a broad footprint and so many major markets in your distribution area, how do you maintain a good relationship with markets both large and small?

One of the keys to our strength at Four Seasons is the diversity of our customers and the diversity of programs we offer to help service those customers. We serve an arc from north of Boston, through Pittsburgh, south to North Carolina, and within that area, we are extremely comfortable servicing our largest customers and cherish those relationships, but equally enjoy working with our smaller and independent customers. We enjoy the level of creativity that working with those types of customers provides. You mention that small market in Maryland in which the product is displayed well, it’s fresh, it's promoted; for us to help a customer like that succeed is every bit as important as doing the same for a larger customer.

You were recently given a unique award by your corporate peers. Would you tell us about it?

I am very proud to be associated with Four Seasons every day, but I am especially proud these past few weeks as we were recognized by the Central Pennsylvania Business Journal as their Corporate Citizen of the Year. It's a tight-knit region and we're both humbled and honored.


Chairman's Roundtable Thanks 2010 Supporters

United Fresh's Chairman's Roundtable provides extra support for programs in government relations, food safety, nutrition policy and other areas to help grow the produce industry. We are pleased to recognize the following companies who have committed to the 2010 Chairman's Roundtable:

  • Bonipak Produce Company, Santa Maria, CA
  • Capital City Fruit Company, Norwalk, IA
  • Castellini Company, LLC, Newport, KY
  • Ciruli Brothers, Tubac, AZ
  • D'Arrigo Brothers Company of New York, Bronx, NY
  • Danaco Solutions, Highland Park, IL
  • Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Oviedo, FL
  • Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, Maitland, FL
  • G.O. Fresh, Minneapolis, MN
  • Gills Onions, LLC, Oxnard, CA
  • Giorgio Fresh Co., Temple, PA
  • H. Brooks & Company, New Brighton, MN
  • J & J Distributing, Saint Paul, MN
  • The Kroger Company, Cincinnati, OH
  • Liberty Fruit Company, Kansas City, KS
  • Natureseal, Westport, CT
  • Nonpareil Corporation, Blackfoot, ID
  • R.C. Farms, Salinas, CA
  • Sensitech, Beverly, MA
  • Wiers Farm/Dutch Maid Logistics, Willard, OH
  • Winter Garden Produce, Uvalde, TX

The Chairman's Roundtable is an opportunity for United Fresh member companies to contribute above and beyond their basic dues. Roundtable members are industry leaders who set the pace in building United Fresh's strength in areas that do not generate their own revenue. Members of Chairman's Roundtable enjoy special recognition throughout the year for their support.  For more information on the Chairman's Roundtable, please contact Director of Membership Miriam Miller at 202-303-3400 ext. 410.


New Member Welcome

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

Welcome
  • Safe Grow, Bakersfield, CA

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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