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A Message from Tom Stenzel on Coronavirus/COVID-19

May 15, 2020

May 15, 2020

Dear produce industry members,

As always, thank you for all you’re doing to keep the fresh produce supply chain moving to feed America and the world!

And today, a special shout out to those companies that are beginning to deliver produce boxes to folks in need as part of the USDA Farmers to Families program. Yes, not everything in that program has gone smoothly at the start, but that doesn’t take away from the herculean efforts many of our members are starting today to deliver hundreds of millions of dollars of fresh produce to people in need.

It’s far too early for a retrospective about this program, but many of you know of our letter to USDA on Monday asking important questions about accountability in this program. The last thing any of us want to see is companies fail to perform with the skill and efficiency that our industry brings every day to a very complex supply chain. Delivering refrigerated, high-quality fresh produce in a food safe manner is not like putting tchotchkes in a bag.

Despite some questionable cases, we strongly applaud USDA for standing up this program so fast to serve Americans in need, while bringing needed support to growers and the wholesale supply chain.  Last night we joined with our partner Produce Marketing Association sending this letter to USDA, offering our members’ help in ensuring the highest level of integrity and professionalism in the program.  We’re all learning so many lessons through this pandemic, and I for one personally will look back on this experience as one of those lessons.

We’re thrilled to see the execution our members are bringing today. Coastal Produce here in the DC market hosted USDA Secretary Perdue and “First Daughter” Ivanka Trump today to see how they’re packing boxes in their facility. Pacific Coast Fruit in Portland, OR is teaming up with a competitor Charlie’s Produce and starting to deliver boxes today. And 4Earth Farms in Los Angeles, CA and Segovia’s Distributing, Inc. in El Paso, TX both have assembly well underway. More great news – being awarded contracts has also allowed companies to bring back some employees from furlough!

A final word about this for now – we understand that USDA is taking a hard look at recent awards and will bring great rigor and oversight to make sure the desired outcomes are achieved. And, we’re learning about some new contracts being awarded to companies that are ready to go. Whether or not a specific company gets a specific contract, our overall goal must be to ensure that all contracts deliver fresh produce efficiently, safely and quickly to those in need.

Now, onto something much less stressful this week – Lisa Overman, Dole’s Director of Marketing, and I got to take our first business trip in two months! And what an occasion – our first visit with one of our 25 winning retail produce managers! We were saying thank you not only to a produce manager on the grocery front line, but Jaleisha Freeman serves those on our military front line at the Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach! As a defense commissary retail winner, we were able to say “thank you” to Jaleisha for so many reasons. 

Lisa drove up five hours from Dole’s Charlotte, NC headquarters and I drove down from United Fresh world headquarters in Washington, DC. Talk about the best day ever! I wish for all of you to get back on the road, safely of course, as soon as possible!

I’ll leave you today with a reminder to find the fun in your work – Jaleisha and her colleagues got us dancing with excitement! Come dance with Jaleisha and her fellow honorees this June during United Fresh LIVE! 

Take care one and all!

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