Well, I showed up at the USDA's Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee meeting today in Alexandria, ostensibly here to report on the committee's deliberations.
Of course, my inner motivation was more ambitious. I was prepared to grovel to accompany the committee on the Sept. 14 field trip to the White House vegetable garden.
I greeted AMS exec Bob Keeney and lightheartedly brought up the topic. I kidded him that I expected one of the committee's recommendations to Secretary Vilsack would be a resolution for me to accompany the committee to the garden party and the meeting with the White House chef.
Keeney joshed that the entire trip was no certain thing, what with security clearances and scheduling details, etc.
It was a friendly brush off, but what could I say? I doubt if there is an "open garden" act that I could invoke. Stymied, I will have to be content to gaze in at industry leaders cavorting in the vegetable garden from outside the White House gates.
As for the committee meeting, the deliberations began at 8 a.m. Monday and lasted the entire day on Sept. 13.
The USDA provided an update on its purchasing activities for fruit and vegetable commodities and also featured a session about the Know your farmer, Know your food initiatives. These updates occurred before I arrived at the meeting about 1 p.m.
In the afternoon session, there were presentations about the "Produce University" Initiative by the Food and Nutrition Service and the AMS, with Brenda Hallbrook of FNS and Carl Newell of AMS each taking a turn explaining the program. One of the main purposes of the educational initiative is to help school foodservice officials become better educated about fresh produce handling.
The USDA/FDA Food Safety Initiative and the FDA development of produce safety regulations were addressed by Jim Gorny, senior FDA advisor and Leanne Skelton of FDA/AMS. Gorny volunteered again that the FDA's task in creating a produce safety regulation is very difficult indeed. Even after a proposed rule is released, he said process will allow more opportunities for the trade to provide input.
Although the topic is outside the purview of direct USDA oversight, there was an extensive discussion of labor and immigration issues in the afternoon session. Both Frank Gasperini of the National Council of Agricultural Employers and Paul Schlegel of the American Farm Bureau Federation spoke to the group.
The advisory committee has obviously done a lot of work over the past few months, with presentations by committee members representing working groups that address food safety, labor, procurement and the know your farmer and farm to school issues.
While the committee is diverse, I get the sense that recommendations that have been developed come from the middle mainstream of industry thought.
Final recommendations from the group will be delivered Tuesday morning, right before the trip to the White House vegetable garden.
You remember, the field trip I'm not going on….