I don’t expect any grinning thumbs-up gesture of acknowledgement from my colleagues who supported another candidate in November’s presidential election.

However, the people who elected President Obama deserve kudos for the benefits that will be brought to the produce industry under this administration.

This administration is out to sell produce.

Obama brings hope and change for produce sales
Chuck Robinson
Assistant Copy Chief

An inkling of the bonanza headed the way of the produce industry was evident in the words Mrs. Obama spoke to fifth graders from Washington, D.C.’s Bancroft Elementary School during a June 16 party celebrating the harvest from the White House Garden. The students had helped plant the garden in early April.

She made eating vegetables chic.

Don’t sell that part short. It is nice to have a champion of fresh fruits and vegetables in the White House. No more “I hate broccoli” (the earlier President Bush) or jogging to McDonald’s (Clinton).

More than that, in comments made ostensibly to the children, the first lady laid out key policy components for the administration. She talked about food deserts, where families have limited access to healthy fruits and vegetables. She discusssed getting more fresh and nutritious foods into the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s child nutrition programs.

More than that, she addressed the critical issue of reducing diet-related disease as a major part of health care reform. Health-related diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and high-blood pressure cost the U.S. more than $120 billion each year, she said.

“For the first time in the history of our nation, a nation that is one of the wealthiest on the planet, medical experts have warned that our younger generation may be on track to have a shorter life span than their parents as a direct result of the obesity epidemic,” Mrs. Obama told the students and the assembled media.

The answer to what to do about this, she said: Eat right and exercise.

This is what anybody selling produce wants to hear.

The first lady also made comments in support of local and smaller food producers and encouraging urban and community gardening.

I think such efforts help make produce more attractive. These efforts help pull fruits and vegetables from the subconsciousness of people.

When they go shopping at the supermarket, they may look for the signs pointing out locally grown items but they also will fill their baskets with other items because eating fresh produce has gained in importance.

The U.S. apple industry won big points when a bowl of apples starred with President Obama and his wife in a TV special,“Inside the Obama White House,” that ran on NBC and MSNBC in early June.

Even more good news for produce marketers — the first couple caught flak from certain quarters about going for a “date night” in late May to Blue Hill, a reportedly pricey Greenwich Village restaurant that champions locally grown produce.

It champions the produce grown at Blue Hill Farm, its sister operation.

This builds on momentum in the administration to promote eating fruits and vegetables. In April Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the Obama administration’s stimulus plan would provide a $20 billion bump for food stamps, which translates to an extra $65-100 a month for households receiving benefits.

Vilsack further said the agency is focusing on nutrition in its near-term agenda. For instance, President Obama’s budget calls for an additional $1 billion for school lunch and breakfast programs, and Vilsack noted how the budget also reallocates money to allow schools to purchase more fruits and vegetables.

This is the right direction.

I know other issues seem to make some people’s heads spin. What’s up with Congress stopping Mexican trucks from crossing the border, precipitating Mexico to retaliate in March by reinstating pre-North American Free Trade Agreement tariffs?

Oh, and I remember the venom in a line from a story by The Packer’s National Editor Tom Karst about a court injunction stopping the Obama administration’s plan to suspend H-2A reforms put in place by the Bush administration in January.

Reverting to the policy of all but the last days of the Bush administration caused alarm among some in the industry. Wage rates could have gone up as much as $2 an hour in the mid-Atlantic region and the South, and the Obama administration has taken some hits for that.

“It was the (United Farm Workers union) running the Secretary of Labor’s office, is what it was,” said Frank Gasperini, executive vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Council of Agricultural Employers.

Don’t know about that, but keep your eye on the ball. What we’re doing is trying to sell produce. The industry is getting great help to do that.

This administration makes eating fruits and vegetables cool. This administration says eating right is of national importance.

E-mail crobinson@thepacker.com