(May 22) I received a manila envelope in the mail the other day. Expecting to find a pitchable news release, I was pleased and surprised to instead find a letter from a reader.

Don Wolf, a consultant with Vegetable Growers Supply, Salinas, Calif., referenced my article on 5 a Day in the April 29 issue of The Packer.

“It is good to see our efforts from the 1970s are starting to bear fruit on a national basis. The infusion of money from the federal government is really what is needed to move this program along,” he said.

He makes a good point. The recent success of the 5 a Day program was built on a foundation laid decades ago, even if we are not fully aware of the builders and their efforts.

Wolf was one of the early builders, serving on the Produce Marketing Association board in the early 1970s.

He credits avocado marketing guru Ralph Pinkerton as one industry leader who helped begin the focus on nutrition education.

Wolf, now 68, served the industry most actively when he was in his 40s.

During those days, he also would write an occasional column for The Packer.

He included one of those columns with his letter, a piece dated Jan. 28, 1978.

His published words were stunningly prophetic.

At the time, Wolf commented about a government nutrition study that urged (you guessed it) Americans to eat more fruits and vegetables.

Of course, the dietary study said consumers ate too much fatty and highly refined foods.

He wrote: “(The report) struck at the very core of the highly advertised, highly sophisticated processed food industry in the United States and suggested that Americans should be eating less of that kind of food and more fruit, vegetables and whole grain cereals.”

In the column, Wolf noted the icy reaction the report received from dairy, sugar and processed food manufacturers. That left the voice for nutrition education to fall solely to fruit and vegetable marketers, and the industry was falling short.

“There is no doubt that certain organizations within our industry have made an effort in the area of nutrition education, but I am talking about a concerted industrywide effort to educate all segments of the American population about the importance of good nutrition in preventing disease and fostering a happier, healthier life.

“This must be a long-term program and with an operational plan that will result in a 15-year or 20-year program designed to reach throughout all age levels and all facets of society.”

Gee, that sounds a lot like 5 a Day.

Wolf went on to suggest that the government could assist in such a nutrition education effort.

Today, he observes that the government is thankfully more receptive to the industry than in the 1970s.

“The government is finally starting to realize it is better to have preventive medicine rather than reactive medicine,” he said.

Wolf’s column in 1978 surely hit the right note then and more so today.

Today, the promise of government assistance is more winsome in concept than in reality.

The partnership of the Health and Human Services Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture with 5 a Day to promote fruit and vegetable consumption is a little like the early days of e-commerce.

Something revolutionary is happening or will soon happen. However, we haven’t exactly figured out what it will mean.

The partnership, if it is indeed a serious undertaking, will result in a greater emphasis on nutrition education.

Thankfully, the industry is blessed to have high-caliber leadership at 5 a Day.

Lorelei DiSogra, director of the 5 a Day program at the National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Md., is one those leaders who is out to change the world.

I had a chance to visit with her at the National 5 a Day Partnership meeting in late April, when the USDA announced its commitment to partner with the 5 a Day effort.

Leaving a vice president post at Dole to undertake the effort at the cancer institute last year, DiSogra is making the most of her time in the halls of government.

DiSogra, along with Elizabeth Pivonka, president of the Produce for Better Health Foundation, Wilmington, Del., had been working intensively to seal the USDA partnership for the past year.

“One could say the USDA should have been at the table for the past 11 years, and it’s not that we didn’t try,” DiSogra said.

Her new proximity to Washington, D.C., has been and will continue to be a huge asset to get USDA action on 5 a Day.

“Our office is 45 minutes away, and I can bug them a lot,” she said.

With the partnership memorandum of understanding signed, DiSogra said the next priority is to get salad bars in schools.

“(In) schools that have salad bars, kids eat one to two more servings a day just because they have salad bars,” she said.

DiSogra said there are a lot of things the USDA could do to promote 5 a Day, but making a long list won’t necessarily get any of them done. She said she has learned how bureaucracy works, even as she tried to avoid becoming enmeshed in it.

“I said to my staff I don’t want to know how the government does things,” she said.

DiSogra gave up the plum job at Dole, West Coast friends and a house she loved to come to work for the cancer institute.

“What’s made the job rewarding is to see the national partnership grow,” she said.

If the leaders of the 1970s helped lay the foundation for nutrition education, surely DiSogra and Pivonka are the architects for its future.