Ken Wilmoth has worked with produce since he was a kid helping pull his parents’ produce cart.
Now as a Subsistence field representative for Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support, he works directly with customers at military bases and schools to ensure they receive quality fresh fruit and vegetables.
“(Produce) is a unique item. And it is not something like handling a can of green beans or a frozen ham,” said Wilmoth. “It is something that you really have to know how to take care of.”
Wilmoth’s team of field reps supports customers in 12 Southeastern states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They speak to their customers daily. But they make the biggest impact when visiting their customers.
“They are very, very happy when a DLA rep actually comes to their door,” Wilmoth said. “That’s when I have found over the years that they make time to tell you what’s going on.”
Customers are more open about issues they’re working through when Wilmoth’s team visits in-person. And that provides the field reps a chance to demonstrate that they can fix those issues, Wilmoth said.
“The face-to-face is very important,” he said.
During his 25 years with DLA Troop Support, Wilmoth has helped grow Subsistence’s produce support to schools through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s school lunch program.
He’s been instrumental in getting local farmers to provide produce to schools in the region, said Donna Stubbs, with the Mississippi Department of Education Office of Child Nutrition. He’s encouraged farmers and the state’s Department of Agriculture to participate in the farm-to-school program since it began 12 years ago.
Shortly after Subsistence began supporting the USDA, Wilmoth noticed that the produce delivered to a North Carolina school was from California.
“Our vendor delivered California strawberries, and there was one of the nicest strawberry farms you could imagine that I passed about two miles heading to the school,” he said.
So he called the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and work started to get local produce in those schools. Schools in the state now receive an average of $1 million worth of North Carolina produce ever year, Wilmoth said.
After picking up his passion for produce as a child, Wilmoth is trying to pass it on to his four grandchildren. He introduces them to new fruits and vegetables, including exotic fruits such as grapples, dragon fruit and one of his favorites, rambutans.
If they’re supposed to eat nine servings a day, he said, then we have to show them something besides apples and oranges.