(July 25) LOS ANGELES — The Defense Commissary Agency has changed the way it sources fresh produce, and now the Defense Logistics Agency plans to do the same for schools and other military feeding requirements.

The agency, a part of the Department of Defense, has worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 12 years to supply schools with fruits and vegetables, said Pat Scott, troop and USDA cell chief for the Defense Supply Center Philadelphia.

Scott presented a new plan for distribution July 18 during an educational session at the 60th annual national conference of the Alexandria, Va.-based School Nutrition Association.

Last year, about $50 million was provided for the school program, she said. Troop support operations worldwide garnered $234 million in funding for fresh produce supplies.

The DeCA program previously brought the agency $308 million for fresh produce. Under a new system, DeCA is handling $350 million in contracts being given to produce companies of any size.

The Logistics Agency still plans to provide fresh produce to schools and other government interests, such as troop dining facilities, hospitals and ships, Scott said.

Similar to the DeCA program, those supplies will now be secured through contracts with produce suppliers, she said.

The department plans to award contracts to 46 produce companies in 13 areas, she said. The initial contracts will be for 18 months.

Scott said the plan is to stay away from large broadliners and focus more on small produce businesses. To win the contracts, produce companies will have to prove they can sufficiently cover the areas for which they are assigned.

She said that might be difficult.

“To be honest, commissary (DeCA) business is easy business — ‘I’ve got to deliver to one stop on a military base, I’m done,’” she said. “ … We put out 33 dining facilities on a military base. Right there you’ve got volume and multistops. And, ‘Oh by the way while you’re in the city of El Paso you’ve got to take care of 200 school drops as well.’”

At the school level, districts will no longer be able to guarantee that fresh produce comes from state growers, Scott said. The new program will not allow geographical preference.