(Nov. 3, 1:38 p.m.) SANTA MONICA, Calif. — When the federal School Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Snack Program was launched with the 2008 farm bill, it was the culmination of a six-year effort by Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.

DiSogra, previously director of the national 5 a Day program at the Bethesda, Md.-based National Cancer Institute, has pushed for the program ever since it was incorporated as a pilot program into the 2002 farm bill.

“I brought this with me when I went to United Fresh 3 ½ years ago,” she said. “United Fresh has always been the lead organization behind trying to secure the funding to expand this program.”

DiSogra was on hand along with A.G. Kawamura, California agriculture secretary, and several state and school district officials when the program was formally unveiled in the state at Will Rogers Learning Community Oct. 30.

The school will receive $26,100 — $50 per student.

The program, which is aimed at schools with a large proportion of low-income students, was designed to increase children’s consumption of fruits and vegetables, which, in turn, should reduce childhood obesity and improve health.

The farm bill funded the program with $1.2 billion over 10 years, DiSogra said.

This year, schools will get $49 million, but that figure will double next year and triple the year after that.

“That shows the support of this program in Congress,” she said. “They want it to reach as many kids as possible, and they want it to grow every single year.”

California will get the largest grant — about $2.75 million — because it has the largest population. It’s administered there by the California Department of Education, Child Nutrition Division.

The program started on a trial basis six years ago in four states. It now is available in all 50 states and territories.

More than 1 million schoolchildren are participating this year, DiSogra estimated, and that number should grow to 3 million in three years. More than 1,300 schools participate nationwide.

At the official unveiling of California’s program in Santa Monica, Kawamura expressed appreciation for the federal funding and to United Fresh, Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers and other organizations that pushed for its adoption.

In talking to fifth graders at the school, he said he learned that kids already were discovering unusual fruits and vegetables that they had not been exposed to before.

The program enables schools to teach “not only academics, but healthy habits for life,” said Dona Richwine, nutritionist for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

It has taught kids that consuming fresh produce is beneficial, added Matt McInerney, executive vice president of Western Growers.

“The children are taking that message home to their parents and encouraging them to buy fresh fruits and vegetables,” he said.

Western Growers was one of 120 organizations that worked to expand the pilot program, said McInerney, who praised DiSogra as “a passionate advocate for this initiative.”

The program quickly changes kids’ eating behavior and has resulted in their dropping less money into vending machines and eating less candy, chips and soda and more fruits and vegetables, DiSogra said.

The World Health Organization has lauded the program as one of the most effective strategies for decreasing childhood obesity, she said, adding, “Now this program is offered in many countries around the world.”

School produce snack program comes to California
California agriculture secretary A.G. Kawamura (left center) and Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for the United Fresh Produce Association, hand out fresh produce to students at Will Rogers Learning Community on Oct. 30, as the federal School Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Snack Program is formally unveiled in California.