By: Kate Olender, Senior Director, Health & Wellness, United Fresh Produce Association
Alex DiNovo, President and COO of DNO Produce, won a back-of-the-house tour with the Cincinnati Public Schools foodservice team during January’s Bids for Kids auction, benefitting the United Fresh Start Foundation. Alex and six of his colleagues visited a K-8 school in March, and discussed all things fruit and veggie with their host, Jessica Shelly, Food Services Director at Cincinnati Public Schools. We chatted with Alex and his team to learn about his “behind-the-scenes” experience.
What did you see on your tour?
We started with the lunch line, which included apples, oranges, roasted zucchini, and roasted grape tomatoes. Our foodservice hosts shared with us that the 800 students in the school really like their veggies roasted. Then, we went into the lunchroom and saw the salad bar, which offers all kinds of fresh produce. We got to experience the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) in action, which starts in the lunchroom where the school gives out handle baskets filled with the FFVP snacks, and when the students finish their lunch, some take the baskets to their classrooms for an afternoon snack.
What did you see when you visited the classroom for the FFVP?
We went to a first grade classroom where the kids sampled grapefruit. The school nurse had put together a presentation with voiceover to teach the kids about grapefruit. Throughout the presentation, the teacher paused the slides and asked questions to engage the students. The kids were noticeably excited as they learned about where grapefruit grows, what color it is, and all kinds of fun facts, including how a spoon was invented for the grapefruit. The teacher stressed to us how much she loves the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, and how valuable it is for her students.
What’s the impact of the salad bar and FFVP?
We learned that the neighborhoods the school draws from are woefully underserved. Families have to pinch pennies where they can, and a lot of times it’s nutrition that is negatively affected. The healthy meals and snacks provided through the salad bar and FFVP are so valuable here – they might be the only food some kids eat all day, and certainly the only fresh produce many kids eat. The programs are critical to ensuring these kids eat fresh fruits and vegetables, and are therefore also critical to ensuring they grow into lifelong produce consumers.
Did you discover any business opportunities through your engagement with school foodservice?
Yes. We already supply the district with fruits and vegetables through a distributor, but we don’t contribute to their Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. We asked them “How can a distributor or fresh-cut processor be of more value for the FFVP program?” They stressed that the program is even more successful when the kids learn about the FFVP produce in their classrooms. Most teachers don’t know how to talk about the importance of produce, and there are no standardized lessons. We found out that there’s a real business opportunity in offering school districts FFVP produce and in-class educational resources to accompany it, and that providing that extra support can set us apart from other suppliers.
Has your visit inspired you to take additional action to support the school or the Foundation?
Yes! We want to develop a curriculum that could go with FFVP, to build on the success of the program and to be a value-add for participating schools. A rising tide raises all ships, and if our industry can offer FFVP-complimentary education throughout the country to schools in our communities, it will make the program even more successful, which benefits us all by creating lifelong produce consumers.
What was most valuable about the tour?
It was so beneficial to talk to foodservice about FFVP, DOD, how it all works logistically on their end, and how we can provide more value to them. But the most value came from observing the kids. It was so motivating and inspirational to see firsthand how what we do as a company makes a difference in children’s lives. We came away from the tour with a real understanding about how our work has a real impact – not just for our business, but for society as a whole.
Cincinnati Public Schools serves fresh fruits and vegetables to more than 30,000 kids each day.