The Produce Marketing Association (PMA) has teamed up with Brighter Bites—a nonprofit that delivers produce and nutrition education to underserved communities—to help empower healthy families, reduce food waste and increase consumption of fruits and vegetables.
“At PMA, our vision is to bring together the global produce community to grow a healthier world,” Cathy Burns, CEO, Newark, Del.-based PMA, said in a statement. “Being able to grow healthier families while reducing food waste through this grass-roots, community-based program helps PMA and our members bring that vision to life.”
Armed with a goal to change behavior among children and families, and to increase produce consumption to prevent obesity and ensure long-term health, Brighter Bites has delivered more than 12 million pounds of fresh produce to over 30,000 families since its inception in 2012 by channeling surplus produce to families via children’s school and summer programs.
“We are excited to partner with Brighter Bites to provide them with strategic insights, financial resources and partners throughout the industry that will enable them to take their multi-state program to a larger national scale,” Burns added.
The program involves parents and volunteers who pack bags of fresh, seasonal produce for families to pick up and take home each week during two eight-week sessions during the school year and an additional eight-week session during the summer. The two bags of fresh produce contain about 50 servings of eight to 12 different produce items.
“Brighter Bites has grown because our program works, but also because we have incredible partners who help keep our data-proven program going across the U.S.,” said Lisa Helfman, founder and board chair, Brighter Bites, based in Houston, Texas. “Between local food banks, growers, suppliers and distributors, the produce industry has bent over backwards to ensure we have enough product to meet our required 50 servings of produce per family each week.”
The Brighter Bites program enforces produce distribution, nutrition education and a fun food experience that includes weekly recipe samples, nutrition handbooks, recipes and tip sheets, as well as teaching coordinated school health lessons in the classroom.
A two-year, peer-reviewed research study by UTHealth School of Public Health demonstrates that families ate most or all of the produce provided by Brighter Bites, which amounted to an average of 57 servings of fruits and vegetables each week. In addition, the research shows that once families have completed the program, their consumption of fruits and vegetables remains high—74% of the families are maintaining the same levels of consumptions as when they were getting the free weekly bags of produce.
“The research shows the program works on several levels,” said Burns. “There is the immediate benefit of providing fresh fruits and vegetables to those who don’t have access to it or may not be able to afford it. Through its recipes and other educational materials, Brighter Bites teaches these families how to choose and use fresh food, empowering them to buy and cook with fresh produce in the future.”