With debate over health care legislation and worries about underwear bombers dominating the mainstream news cycle, some good news for the fruit and vegetable trade went largely unmentioned as 2010 got under way.

USDA did its homework on advisory committee picks

Fred Wilkinson
Managing Editor

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on Jan. 5 the 25 new members of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee.

Judging from the names gracing the committee’s lineup, Vilsack and the USDA deserve applause for assembling a well-rounded roster. (A complete list of committee members can be found here.)

The committee boasts representatives from across various production regions as well as growing, shipping and marketing sectors of the business.

Some committee members also bring with them previous tenure as leaders in industry organizations.

For example, advisory committee appointee Mike O’Brien, vice president of produce for Schnuck Markets Inc., St. Louis, also serves as vice chairman of the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association.

Maureen Torrey Marshall, vice president of Torrey Farms Inc., Elba, N.Y., has served as chairwoman of the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C.

This isn’t her first stint with the USDA advisory panel.

In fact, she served as chairwoman of the first committee back in 2002, appointed by then-Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman.

Lisa McNeece, vice president of foodservice and industrial sales for Bakersfield, Calif.-based Grimmway Farms, is another returning veteran, having served previously a couple of years ago.

McNeece said her experience on the committee proved a good opportunity to learn about other sectors of the business, adding that while working with government is interesting, it moves at its own pace.

“It doesn’t move quickly,” she said.

She also praised USDA for its panel picks.

“They’re making sure it’s very diversified,” she said.

Future focus

McNeece said she wants the advisory group to build on the success the industry has had in furthering child nutrition by improving school feeding programs, such as adding fresh-cut apples to menu offerings.

She also mentioned the expansion of fruits and vegetables in the Women, Infants and Children food aid program as another example of industry lobbying success that also serves the common good by improving public health through teaching healthful eating habits.

“You have to start with children,” she said.

The USDA has made its Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food locally grown/farmers market initiative a priority under President Obama, and the makeup of the advisory panel reflects that.

For one, there’s Beth Ann Knorr, local food programs coordinator and market manager of Akron, Ohio’s Countryside Conservancy, whose Web site lists “working to re-envision and rebuild local and regional farming and food systems in northeast Ohio” as its goal.

First-time appointee J. Allen Swann, owner of Swann Farms, supplies peaches, sweet corn, watermelon, tomatoes, cantaloupe and strawberries grown on 250 acres in Owings, Md., to farmers markets, mom-and-pop grocers and some chains in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area.

Last summer, Swann Farms supplied area locations of Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Markets with strawberries and sweet corn, and Swann says that probably will expand this year.

He listed national food safety and traceability standards as areas where he would like to see progress made.

Issues concerning standards tailored to larger grower-shippers’ operations and their feasibility for smaller farms have yet to be resolved.

“Small growers just don’t have the economy of scale to meet some of these requirements,” he said, adding that “there are no easy answers.”  

E-mail fwilkinson@thepacker.com

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