The removal of salad bars from six Monterey, Calif., elementary schools in a labor dispute has spurred fresh produce industry efforts to get them back — and fund more.
The salad bars were pulled from Monterey Peninsula Unified School District in May when lunchroom workers with the Classified School Employee Association union complained that required maintenance exceeded contract obligations. The school year ended June 7, but district officials said they’re confident summer labor talks will bring salad bars back in August.
“I don’t think I ever expected it to become part of a negotiation,” said Jan DeLyser, Produce Marketing Association board chairman and vice president of marketing for the California Avocado Commission.
“It’s definitely counter to the goals of the salad bar program, to get fresh fruits and vegetables into the mouths of children in schools and educate and inform them,” she said. “It’s going to garner the attention of our industry, and schools will think through how they approach it as well. I think the attention could lead to additional support.”
PMA pledged $100,000 for Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools in January and asked members to back it as well.
“In an ironic way, this unfortunate issue has mobilized both kids and parents to tell school officials and the public how important these salad bars are, and how much they want them back,” United Fresh Produce Association chief executive officer Tom Stenzel said in an e-mail to donors. United Fresh is a founding partner in Let’s Move, which has placed about 2,500 salad bars.
“This is the only situation we have been made aware of where cafeteria workers voiced concern about an increased workload due to the salad bar,” Stenzel said. “We will certainly be on the lookout for any similar concerns with future school districts.”
Although just six schools lost salad bars, 19 donations came to the district through United Fresh, its members and partners. Many were recent. Their installation awaits a resolution.
Dole Food Co. was an early donor to the district, providing five in September. Marty Ordman, vice president of marketing and communications, attended an installation at Foothill Elementary, which has since lost its salad bar.
“(It’s) a very unfortunate situation,” Ordman said. “We are hopeful that a resolution will be worked out so that the kids in those schools can have access to fruits and veggies through the salad bars we donated.”
“It’s such a disservice to the students,” Margaret D’Arrigo-Martin, vice president of community development at Taylor Farms, said of the removal. “The industry has worked very hard to fund these salad bars for the schools. I think the children deserve access to fresh fruits and vegetables, especially in this county where they’re grown.”
D’Arrigo-Martin has led Grower-Shipper Association Foundation efforts to offer trainings to area schools starting or hoping to strengthen salad bar programs.
“There’s labor involved in maintaining one, but there’s a way to do it cost effectively if there’s buy-in from the top down,” she said. “Everybody’s got to work together on it. I think we can help them be successful in re-launching their program.”
D’Arrigo-Martin planned to meet with the district’s superintendent. “It’s not our role to go up against the labor union, but we want to provide support,” she said.
United Fresh offered its assistance to the Monterey district and the California Department of Education. Ultimately the matter will be resolved locally.
“There’s probably going to be some good learning from this that informs future rollout of the salad bar program,” DeLyser said.