This week, I am being an active citizen. I am in Washington, DC, along with about 500 of my produce industry colleagues at our industry’s annual Washington Public Policy Conference.
This afternoon, we will all converge “on the hill” visiting our own Senators and Congressmen to share our opinions on important issues to our industry.
One of my favorite parts of this 3 day event is when invited guests speak. This morning’s speaker was Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa. It was 10 years ago, at this very event, that Senator Harkin proposed a “wild and crazy” idea. He said:
“What if we develop a program that gives free fresh fruits and vegetables to school kids?” When he brought this up 10 years ago (in 2001), I kind of laughed. It sounded a little crazy to me and I really didn’t understand the implications.
Here is a photo of Senator Harkin with my friend Dan’l who introduced him.
This morning, Senator Harkin told us the genesis of this idea. His kids were attending a Montessori School and the teachers gave out fresh fruits and veggies as snacks to the kids around 9 am. The teachers reported that kids get hungry about that time of the day, which causes them to get grouchy and disruptive. When the teachers gave them healthy snacks (like fresh fruits and veggies) they calmed down, were more focused and had an easier time learning. Sugar-laden snacks like cookies did not have the same positive effect.
I was fortunate to be a spokesperson for our industry and the following year in 2002, I gave testimony to the U S Senate Agriculture Committee on the benefits of “The Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program” (we had given it a name). At that time, the program was a test in 4 states.
Well, fast forward to 2011 and the program receives more than $150 million dollars through the Farm Bill, and students in schools in all 50 states are now offered FREE fresh fruits and veggies on a regular basis.
And, now that I think about it, I do the same thing every day. Each morning, I pack myself baggies filled with cut up celery, carrots and cucumbers plus an apple. And each day, about 9 am I start munching on them. Even though there are not a lot of calories, I find that I feel full and satisfied with my fresh fruit and veggie snack. It holds me over until my lunch about noon.
Why don’t you try this yourself? Start packing cut up fruit and veggies and enjoying them during the morning. I bet you’ll be more productive, less grouchy and you’ll be doing your part to help change the way America eats fruits and vegetables.
And, for Senator Harkin – he is now the Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Someone in our audience pointed out to him that by eating a diet filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, we would actually make our nation healthier and reduce our healthcare costs. Senator Harkin paused for a moment and turned to his aid in the back of the room, and said, “That’s a great idea.” He thanked them for the idea and said he planned to use it.
Being an active citizen can be so gratifying sometimes.