It has been a hands-on year for Steffanie Smith.
The chief executive officer of Hermiston, Ore.-based Riverpoint Farms completes her year as United Fresh chairwoman at the annual convention and exposition May 2-5 in New Orleans.
“It was beyond my expectations,” Smith said. “It took a lot of time, but I think that was part of what I wanted to get out of it, as well. I did my best to be an active chairman.”
Smith said the experience that resonates most from her year as chairwoman of the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association was the launch of the Let’s Move Salad Bars into Schools Initiative where she met first lady Michelle Obama.
“That was an incredible opportunity,” Smith said. “Having her and the White House and the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools was amazing. We worked hard to get that endorsement and support.”
Smith said she hoped to be a positive influence for others in the industry, especially following the reorganization of the boards into market segments.
“One thing I’m really proud of is that I believe I’ve helped people get more engaged,” she said. “I look at the participation of those boards and how they’ve brought those groups together, they’ve really brought a new energy level to the association.”
The Salad Bar in Every School Initiative got a great boost from the first lady’s Let’s Move initiative, but Smith believes there still is a lot of work to be done.
“We’ve been working on it for so long,” she said. “We got a really slow start but now we have to capitalize on (the momentum from Let’s Move).”
Ray Gilmer, vice president of communications for United Fresh said Smith’s enthusiasm for the program is unmatched.
“We’re especially thankful for her tireless leadership on the Let’s Move Salad Bars to School initiative, where she helped rally support and national recognition for increasing fruit and vegetable consumption for millons of kids,” Gilmer said.
United Fresh plans to reinvigorate its task forces and committees to support the A Salad Bar in Every School initiative. Smith said the industry wants more involvement from outside the industry.
“This is not just about produce companies supporting it,” she said. “We need other companies, communities, Parent Teacher Associations…this is a feel-good message because everybody wins. Yes, it’s going to be hard, and schools are going to have to train people and foodservice operators in managing inventories and turns, but they’ve got to feel good about feeding kids more fruits and vegetables.”
It may have been an exhausting year, but Smith said it’s worth it.
“I’m so proud to be a part of the fruit and vegetable industry,” she said. “It’s so easy to believe in what we do and I think, as an industry, we need to get better about what we do.”