School children, warfighters help each other through DLA food-acquisition partnership

By Shawn J. Jones DLA Troop Support

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A partnership between the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Defense is enabling the warfighter and school districts to spend money more efficiently while providing nutritious foods.

The USDA DOD Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which is managed by the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support, leverages whole-of-government buying power.

While some military installations are clustered together, forming large military communities, the vast majority of bases are spread out across the country as small stand-alone installations. The relatively small buying power of a stand-alone base makes it difficult to secure favorable contracts with fresh fruit and vegetable vendors.

Many school nutrition programs face similar constraints.

But by combining the demand of the school districts with that of military dining facilities in the same contract zone, DLA Troop Support acquisition professionals in the Subsistence supply chain are able to negotiate contracts with vendors that provide greater access to fresh, locally grown, reasonably priced fruit and vegetables.

“Instead of buying 50 cases of fruit for the dining facility each week, we are buying hundreds of cases of the same fruit for the school cafeterias in the contract zone,” said Pat Scott, the division chief of garrison feeding for the Subsistence supply chain.

And the program continues to grow.

When it started in 1994, the program tallied $3.2 million of fresh produce acquisitions. That number quickly grew to $50 million, where it was capped by legislation for several years. Once the cap was lifted, produce acquisitions surged.

“This year we hope to reach annual sales of $280 million,” Scott said. “That’s a lot of lettuce!”

The Sayre School District in Northeast Pennsylvania is contributing to the surge.

“We love the DoD fruit and vegetable program,” said Alice Bennett, the director of nutrition services for Sayre schools. “While we appreciate all the government commodities we are offered, the DoD items are those items we really choose to focus on in our lunch program.”

She said the program allows her district to offer nutritious foods to its students, especially those who come from lower-income families who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches.

“The DOD program provides us with affordable, fresh fruits and vegetables. These are the items many children do not get at home on a regular basis,” Bennett said. “We’d rather be serving fresh pears than canned pears, although we appreciate both.”

Providing fresh produce at good prices isn’t the only reason the program has grown over the years.

Scott said another reason for the program’s success is the online fresh fruit and vegetables ordering system, known as FFAVORS. The system provides ordering, invoice and billing reconciliation, funds tracking and reporting options.

FFAVORS was designed to be user-friendly and Scott said that customers’ system-related questions or problems are addressed within one hour.

Scott also gave credit to her team of tailored vendor logistics specialists who must balance the needs of their primary customer, the warfighter, with those of non-DoD customers.

“Our TVLSs are professional and agile to prioritize their work in order to take care of all issues,” she said. “We are here to support the warfighter and all our Subsistence customers.”