Ready Pac Foods provided a hands-on experience of its Swedesboro, N.J., fresh-cut processing facility to FoodCorps New Jersey, an organization that works to improve school food and local produce sourcing. The event, led by Jeff Herdeg, Ready Pac’s Director of Food Service National Accounts at Ready Pac, and a member of the New Jersey Agricultural Leadership Development Program Class 9, helped the group experience a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to bring fresh produce to school lunch plates.
Beth Feehan, director of New Jersey Farm to School Network, co-hosted the event along with Jennifer Shukaitis from Rutgers Cooperative Extension. FoodCorps service members sign up for a year of public service to help transform school food programs through a three-pillared approach: they teach kids what healthy food is and from where it came; they build and tend school gardens where kids grow, cook and taste real food; and they help source high-quality local food for school lunches.
As a participant in the New Jersey Agricultural Society’s Agricultural Entrepreneurship program, Ready Pac helped represent a focus on “Farm to School” to better deepen the company’s involvement in connecting the produce industry to education. “With research indicating a staggering increase in childhood obesity, we’ve reached a pivotal moment in terms of the role nutrition plays within our educational system,” said Herdeg. “Encouraging healthy eating among school children is so much more effective when we can use Ready Pac’s knowledge and experience to illustrate the complete picture through not only consumption, but farming and sourcing as well.”
During the tour, Herdeg explained the procedures by which fresh produce is handled through Ready Pac; the shifting, seasonal patterns of sourcing regionally and domestically; and the labor and equipment required to produce ready-to-eat fresh fruits and veggies. This understanding will help service members better support their food service director partners as they advocate for fresh, local food for school lunches.
Through the agricultural leadership program, New Jersey Farm to School Network supports thought leaders like Ready Pac in the development of a keener understanding of farm to school work in New Jersey, and how this model is influencing the way kids eat. “Through programs like FoodCorps, Ready Pac is pleased to show their support to local communities and schools. As dedicated advocates for healthy nutrition, the Agricultural Entrepreneurship Program is a great way for the Ready Pac to play an integral role in this important cause,” said Herdeg.