(UPDATED COVERAGE, Feb. 11) The United Fresh Produce Association Foundation has launched a campaign to use produce industry donations to start a grass-roots effort that would have parents and school officials rally support for salad bars in every school.

UPDATED: United Fresh wants salad bars in every school

The Washington, D.C.-based foundation is seeking financial commitments from industry members across the supply chain to buy “demonstration” salad bars to educate school districts and community leaders on how the bars can play a role in fighting childhood obesity. In return, those officials would lobby for local, state and federal officials to expand the program.

Chiquita Brands International Inc., Cincinnati (and subsidiary Fresh Express), has already pledged its support. Chiquita did not reveal how much it plans to donate.

United Fresh announced the initiative Feb. 9, the same day first lady Michelle Obama kicked off “Let’s Move,” which seeks to tackle childhood obesity. A key component of Let’s Move is increasing healthy food options in public schools.

“We are pleased to join first lady Michelle Obama’s campaign announced today to combat childhood obesity, one of the greatest health threats to our children, and long-term threats to our nation’s ability to provide affordable health care,” United Fresh president Tom Stenzel said in a news release.

The association has already been active in the effort, successfully lobbying for $100 million in school foodservice equipment in a stimulus package approved a year ago, and donating a salad bar to the Elsie Whitlow Stokes Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., last fall. Lorelei DiSogra, United Fresh vice president of nutrition and health, said salad bars provide children a greater variety of fresh produce, leading to increased consumption.

“We’ve been working on this since September when we had the salad bar on Capitol Hill,” said Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition for United Fresh.

 A key component of the program is having industry members advocating for salad bars in their own communities, she said, and providing leadership in the effort.

“We strongly support the Obama administration’s childhood obesity initiatives, and urge the Congress to provide similar support in reauthorizing childhood nutrition legislation this year,” Stenzel said in the release.

An important step in that process, Stenzel said, includes elements of the Children’s Fruit and Vegetable Act of 2009, introduced by representatives Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Adam Putnam, R-Fla. The bill supports salad bars in schools with increased funding for equipment.

UPDATED: United Fresh wants salad bars in every school

Chiquita support

“When you think of what our products are that are healthy and fresh, it makes sense for us to be part of the campaign and help lead the effort to make sure that fruits and vegetables are available to our kids,” said Ed Loyd, Chiquita's manager of corporate communications and investor relations.

Loyd said Chiquita has made a financial and public health commitments to the effort, but he declined to say how much money the company is pledging.

“We are looking or opportunities where we can directly get involved at the individual school level,” Loyd said. “But the big part is the push to more broadly gain support for the Children’s Fruit and Vegetable Act to get that in place so that we can really make a significant impact in the eating choicess of children in schools.”

Stenzel lauded Chiquita’s support.

“We’re honored that Chiquita and its Fresh Express subsidiary have provided thought leadership, active support and funding for this campaign, and look forward to their continued leadership,” he said in the release.