Courtesy Combs Produce Co.Frieda’s recently provided Combs Produce Co. with horned melons, baby pineapples, rambutans, dragon fruit and other specialties for Combs' first farmers market at an elementary school in San Benito, Texas.Students in South Florida and the Southwest not only are enjoying healthier diets, but they’re also getting to try unusual specialty product items, thanks to a unique partnership with Frieda’s Inc.
During the past five years, the program has grown from one school to about 70 in the Broward and Miami-Dade County school districts, said Marc Dudley, executive assistant of The Produce Connection, Miami.
Dallas-based Combs Produce Co. and Produce Connection have worked with Frieda’s to incorporate specialty items into the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.
Under the program, schools in lower-income areas receive grants to fund two servings of fruits and one vegetable weekly, Dudley said.
He said he’s cognizant of the schools’ meal costs and works with Jeff Kelly, Frieda’s senior account manager, to see how specialty produce can be built into menus.
“We’ll get together every month and talk about it — what’s in season, what’s going on in the California specialty category,” Dudley said. “If there’s something that works in the budget, we get them to choose a specialty item as well.”
Sometimes an item, such as a pepino melon, may be too expensive as a whole. But cutting it to provide half or quarter servings may fit within the budget.
In addition, Dudley — with the help of Frieda’s — provides educational materials to the schools to be used as part of lesson plans.
“It’s not just an eating program. It’s not just a snack program. It’s a learning program,” he said.
Combs has taken a slightly different approached and has started farmers markets that serve as kick-off parties for the school year, said Amy Catalani Holcomb, sales.
Students are given bags and allowed to “shop” tables of exotic fruits and vegetables that are previews of what will be served during the year. Parents are invited, and attendees learn how to prepare the items.
The farmers market concept was prompted by schools wanting new approaches, she said.
“The program’s gotten so big that the schools are saying, ‘I want something more exotic than dragon fruit,’” Holcomb said.
Like Dudley, she said she works with Kelly to find what item availability and cost.
Combs’ program serves schools in Texas and parts of New Mexico and Arkansas.