WASHINGTON — The United Fresh Produce Association Foundation here recently announced the launch of “A Salad Bar in Every School” campaign, a multi-year public health commitment from the fresh produce industry designed to bring fruit and vegetable salad bars to schools across America.
“We believe that schools are very excited and we believe that all of our efforts are really going to raise the visibility that school salad bars — and this is why we're doing it — are an evidence-based strategy to increase kids' consumption of fruits and vegetables,” Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for United, told SN.
“There's research behind this, so it works. Our immediate goal right now is to be able to place 100 salad bars into schools in the next couple of months. And we're hoping to be able to place some of those this spring.”
The campaign is based on the personal involvement and charitable commitments of produce growers, distributors and marketers to raise private funds to donate salad bars to schools in cities and counties across the country in order to increase children's fresh fruit and vegetable consumption.
School nutrition professionals, principals and teachers, parents groups and community supporters, working with local, state and federal government officials, will measure the effects of these salad bars and use the results to bring salad bars to all schools.
While the campaign is new, United Fresh already donated its first salad bar to the Elsie Whitlow Stokes Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., last fall.
The school's kitchen chef, together with the founder and director of the school, wrote a letter to the Washington Post about the donation, and how it was increasing children's fruit and vegetable consumption.
“We offer our students and staff members a full salad bar every day, thanks to the donation of a refrigerated bar from the United Fresh Produce Association,” the published letter said. “It is simply not true that kids do not eat vegetables. What is true is that they will not eat — nor will most adults — vegetables that have been frozen or processed until they become nasty mush.
“Our kids ravage that salad bar every day. We literally run out of most things we put out, especially the uncooked cauliflower, broccoli and leaf spinach. And these are pre-K through sixth-graders!”
The school also received donations of other needed equipment through a Washington-based non-profit called Through the Kitchen Door, with funding from Kaiser Permanente. The non-profit secured most of the donations from Whole Foods Market, Austin, Texas, which has a program to promote health nutrition in local schools, the letter said.
DiSogra told SN that United was looking for key criteria when deciding which schools to donate salad bars to.
“We wanted a school that would make a commitment to using it every single day, that had the resources to put a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in every day and a school where the salad bar would really help them accomplish their objectives for improving school meals and their school wellness polices.”
The campaign includes many different elements, with the overarching goal of getting a salad bar in every school, DiSogra said.
Under that overarching goal, United has been working on the public policy element with the introduction of H.R. 4333, the Children's Fruit and Vegetable Act of 2009. The bill would create a policy for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to advocate salad bars to schools as an evidence-based strategy for childhood nutrition, and also provide money for cafeteria equipment and salad bars.
“There's a tremendous interest in this bill on the Hill — right now it has over 50 co-sponsors in the House and we've now got a senator that's going to be introducing the bill very soon as well,” DiSogra said, adding that getting the salad bar policy and money from Congress for salad bars are two priorities very high up on United's list.
“We've done congressional briefings on salad bars, we've brought in pediatricians and school officials and salad bar researchers to talk about the effectiveness of salad bars both in terms of research that they've done and also what they see in schools, and so we've been doing a lot of work on the overarching area for quite a while.”
Other parts of the campaign have to do with engaging the industry, DiSogra said.
“We want the industry to engage in two different ways,” she said.
One is to get produce industry leaders to play a leadership role in their own communities to get salad bars into schools there. The other is for the produce industry to contribute to the campaign where salad bars will then be put into schools.
“Some of the big companies have already gone to their members of Congress to make sure that when they launch the salad bar, that member will be there,” DiSogra told SN. “They're already thinking about making it a big media event, but also linking it back to our policy goals on Capitol Hill, so everything kind of ties together.”
United has been talking to many large produce companies about participating in the campaign and plans to announce its first cornerstone industry contributors at its Las Vegas convention on April 21. Salad bars will be one of the show's major themes, DiSogra said, and Chiquita has already jumped on board.
One key goal for United Fresh, besides placing 100 salad bars this year, is to engage first lady Michelle Obama, DiSogra said.
“We've already had conversations with some of her staff, so we see this as being not only United Fresh Produce Association, but the produce industry representing all of our members, something that's very tangible that we're all contributing to her overall campaign, ‘Let's Move,’” she said.