(March 6) Seeking to capitalize on a historic opportunity to shape U.S. nutrition policy, United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association president Tom Stenzel on March 4 planned to announce the launch of a three-year, $1.5 million fundraising campaign for Project Fresh Start.

Stenzel was to announce the goal of the nutrition and health policy project of the United Research and Education Foundation as part of the keynote speech to the Southeast Produce Council Annual Conference and Expo.

United is making a three-year, $100,000-per-year commitment to the program from the association’s regular budget, said Nick Tompkins, chairman of United and president and chief executive officer of Apio Inc., Guadalupe, Calif.

United Foundation chairman Stephen Griffin, president of Misionero Vegetables, Salinas, Calif., said the project reflects United’s commitment to help the next generation of children double their consumption of produce to meet dietary guidelines and prevent the development of childhood obesity.

Project Fresh Start aims to:

  • Expand the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s School Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program to all 50 states, with up to 100 schools per state.

  • Increase the use of fruits and vegetables in the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program;

  • Work to bring a salad bar to every school, helping ensure that school meals can meet the new dietary guidelines;

  • Increase availability of fresh produce to schools through the Department of Defense fresh produce distribution program; and

  • Expand government commitment to the National 5 a Day program with funding through the Centers for Disease Control.

Beyond the budget allocation by United, Project Fresh Start has already raised $100,000 in direct corporate and personal contributions from member companies and individuals on the United board, Tompkins said.

“It’s our goal to generate widespread support for this program and not just among a few big companies, and thus we plan to cap annual contributions at $50,000 per partner,” Tompkins said.

Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for United, will direct the project.

Project Fresh Start is not a political action committee, said Amy Philpott, United's vice president of marketing and industry relations.

DiSogra said Project Fresh Start funds in part will be used to bring in industry members and other advocates to lobby lawmakers on Capitol Hill. For example, DiSogra noted that United put together a Congressional briefing on the WIC feeding program and brought in WIC administrators from California to talk about pilot programs for fruit and vegetable vouchers. The cost of that event was close to $30,000, she said.

DiSogra noted that the chance to influence WIC food packages may be a once in a generation opportunity. And the popular fruit and vegetable snack program also requires intensive effort to expand it to more states for the 2007 farm bill.

Project Fresh Start funds could help arrange Congressional staff visits to schools participating in the snack program, she said.