LUNCH BOX DERBY SPONSORED BY STATE APPLE COMMISSION

WENATCHEE, Wash. -- Boys and girls, start your apples!This command may seem a bit strange, but not to many fourth-and fifth-graders in schools across the country.In a pilot program sponsored by the Washington State Apple Commission here, fourth- and fifth-graders were challenged this winter to design, build and race model cars made entirely of produce.Known as the Lunch Box Derby, four-member teams

WENATCHEE, Wash. -- Boys and girls, start your apples!

This command may seem a bit strange, but not to many fourth-and fifth-graders in schools across the country.

In a pilot program sponsored by the Washington State Apple Commission here, fourth- and fifth-graders were challenged this winter to design, build and race model cars made entirely of produce.

Known as the Lunch Box Derby, four-member teams were required to build the cars no larger than 1 square foot. Each team was challenged to use only fresh fruits and vegetables, with three bamboo cooking skewers, four toothpicks and a rubber band.

Finalists in the contest will face off at the annual Supermarket Industry Convention of the Food Marketing Institute in Chicago next week.

Rita Brautigam, a public relations consultant to the apple commission, said the group had received 300 entries by mid-April. "Entries will be judged 70% on performance, 30% on appearance," Brautigam said. "Sixteen teams of regional winners will be chosen and awarded prizes."

From the group of 16 teams, four teams will be chosen to compete at FMI, Brautigam said. The final race will be held Tuesday, May 3 at 1 p.m. Several retailers were involved with the program, which is in its first year. The participating retailers include Sessell's, Memphis, Tenn. The 10-store operator used the Lunch Box Derby as a promotional event through its local school district.

Raye's Grocery, Oberlin, Kan., also used the Lunch Box Derby as a promotional and nutritional tie-in, as did IGA stores in Phoenix.

"This activity has several benefits," said Jim Thomas, manager of the program. "It gives teachers an interesting way to teach nutrition, and students get a chance to use their imagination while learning about teamwork."

Thomas added that by using only fresh fruits and vegetables, children will become familiar with the size, shape and texture of different foods.

"To make the cars work, they'll have to use a wide variety of produce. Hopefully, they'll learn what makes a high-performance car body also makes a high-performance kid body." Oranges, apples and corn were popular items for wheels, said a spokesman for the apple commission.