(May 25) May 19 is a red letter day for the industry.

On that day, the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee included an expanded fruit and vegetable pilot program in its child nutrition bill that likely will come to a vote in early June.

The inclusion of the pilot in the child nutrition bill is significant progress toward ensuring that the pilot program is made permanent and poised for further expansion.

There are still more votes ahead on the child nutrition bill, and a House-Senate conference on the two versions of the child nutrition bill looms large.

However, the industry’s efforts on the issue so far, spurred by the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association, have paid off.

The fruit and vegetable pilot in the Senate version of the bill would be funded at $9 million in mandatory spending each year.

The pilot will become part of the landscape of school foodservice in eight states and three Indian reservations. Media coverage will increase, and the issue of the importance of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables for our nation’s youth will be aired more fully.

United and other advocates have worked in the past year with Senate allies to advance the pilot. In particular, the industry owes a debt to Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who showed his passion for the issue in his opening statement before the Senate Agriculture Committee when he referred to the results of the original pilot.

“In a world where grocery clerks may not know a radish from a rutabaga, it is encouraging to see elementary, middle school and high school students eating fruits and vegetables that they have never seen before — and loving them,” he said.

We agree.

With grass roots support from the industry and the commitment of lawmakers like Harkin, there is a promise of more to come.