The DNO initiative was inspired by a researcher who spoke at the United Fresh Start Foundation’s January 2018 conference about opportunities for industry to enhance the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP)*. FFVP is a federal program that provides four million students in America’s lowest income elementary schools with a fresh fruit and vegetable snack three to five days a week. Alex DiNovo, President and COO of DNO Produce, was in the audience, and was intrigued.
“I came back from San Diego, brought my team together, and suggested they explore whether adding education to the FFVP program makes a difference,” says Alex. Two months later, DNO visited a Cincinnati school and deepened its understanding of how education might support the FFVP. Over the next five months, the DNO team crafted a partnership with Lima City School’s foodservice director, Bluffton University’s dietetic internship program, and Activate Allen County. In September, the program kicked off.
Every Wednesday during lunch for six months, Bluffton University dietetic interns lead kindergarten through fourth-grade students at Freedom Elementary School in educational activities. The program is called Crave the FAV (that stands for Fruit-And-Vegetables) and is designed to complement the FFVP program in classrooms, further supporting kids in healthy eating. Activities are 10-15 minutes long, making it relatively easy to incorporate into a busy school day and increasing the likelihood other schools can replicate the program. Students will be surveyed to determine the impact of the educational activities.
DNO Produce, which provides fresh fruits and vegetables to Lima City Schools through DOD fresh, commercially, and through FFVP, sponsors the produce for the initiative. The United Fresh Start Foundation informed the accompanying research.
While DNO’s initiative emerged from creatively thinking about how to help kids, as the idea developed, it became evident that it was a business opportunity, too.
“We don’t have the economies of scale to be the most efficient supplier. But, as a vendor for schools, we’re providing education as part of our product. It’s our value proposition,” says Alex. “We are offering our customer a value that we weren’t offering before. At the end of the day, this school district customer will probably buy from us for a long time because they like the program we’re offering.”
Value proposition aside, DNO is committed to helping kids eat more produce by enhancing the FFVP, whether the kids go to schools DNO supplies or not. That’s why the company is eager to share the program with others in the industry, in the hopes that they will offer it to their school customers. When the initiative ends, DNO and its partners plan to create a toolkit to share with the industry.
Alex encourages other’s in the industry to consider how they can help increase kids access to fresh fruits and vegetables, through the FFVP or other endeavors. “The why behind the United Fresh Start Foundation matches up with the why behind what DNO produce does, and really, the why behind many in our industry,” says Alex. “If you can match your livelihood with a good cause, it makes working even more pleasurable.”
By: Kate Olender, Senior Director, Health & Wellness, United Fresh Produce Association
Photo credit: Bluffton University
*FFVP in Farm Bill Update: Congress failed to pass a Farm Bill by the September 30th deadline, but FFVP will continue as it currently operates (fresh only). The House and Senate are still working to pass a final Farm Bill by the end of the calendar year. The House’s proposal would harm FFVP by opening it up to canned, dried, frozen and pureed fruits and vegetables (“all forms”). The Senate proposal maintains FFVP as fresh only. Encourage your Members of Congress to prioritize the fresh produce industry in the Farm Bill by taking action.