Though Sam Silvestro retired as senior director of produce for Walmart Canada at the end of 2016, his work as Canadian Produce Marketing Association chair and new consulting contracts have kept him as busy as ever.

“I enjoy helping people,” said Silvestro, who’s particularly pleased with CPMA’s work to reduce the impact of obesity and chronic disease among adults and children by encouraging healthy eating, one of his goals for the year.

In a statement released last spring, CPMA called on the provinces and the federal government to work together to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among Canadians by 20% over the next five years.

In British Columbia, where 44% of residents consumed at least five daily servings of fruits and vegetables in 2012, Silvestro said the provincial government has established a new target of 55% by 2023.

“This has allowed existing programs to be leveraged and repurposed to meet agriculture, health and education goals,” he said.

To support this goal and encourage other provinces to follow British Columbia’s best practices, CPMA and its Half Your Plate brand ambassador, chef Michael Smith, visited the British Columbia legislative assembly in Victoria in February.

CPMA also lobbied the federal government for two key marketing tools to help drive consumption. The first would allow the health claim: “A healthy diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruit may help reduce the risk of heart disease” on qualifying fruits and vegetables.

The second, enacted in December, exempts fresh fruits and vegetables from the requirement for a nutrition facts table when an allowable health or nutrient content claim is made.

With food safety a top priority among CPMA members, the association recently hired Jeff Hall in the newly created role of food safety specialist.

Hall will be responsible for helping the association respond to member food safety inquiries, monitor domestic and international regulations, guide members through a crisis and develop Canadian training programs.

“Having someone with his knowledge on staff to develop and plan strategy is one of the biggest leaps we’ve taken in the last year,” Silvestro said.

On the research and innovation front, Silvestro and CPMA have encouraged Ottawa to renew and enhance its commitment to the fresh produce industry.

“I truly believe the federal government should commit to identifying and facilitating the adoption of new produce-related technologies and approve new technologies for pest management, genetic and germplasm advancement, post-harvest and food safety-related technologies and new growing environments,” he said.

The outgoing chair also believes CPMA “hit a home run” with its industry education program in the past year, launching new credentials that position CPMA as an exciting source of industry knowledge.

“Unfortunately, young people don’t look to produce as a career,” he said. “We need to show them we work in a vibrant business that changes by the hour and offers great opportunities to move forward.”

It’s also an industry that invites camaraderie, he said.

“Even if you’re working for the competition, it’s amazing how everyone finds ways to get along and share ideas,” he said.

“The whole industry to me is like a big family.”