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Being an active citizen

Every September, a large contingent of produce industry folks go to Washington, D.C., to lobby on behalf of our industry. The conference is called the Washington Public Policy Conference (WPPC), and it is sponsored by one of our industry trade associations, the United Fresh Produce Association.

I have attended the WPPC almost every year since it started about 15 years ago, and last month was no exception. This time, my sister and business partner, Jackie, and I both attended. Why did we both attend? There are many critical issues facing our industry right now, and we wanted to make sure our voices were heard.

Top of our industry’s list was the re-authorization of the Child Nutrition Act. This act will ensure that the following programs will continue:
National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs
WIC (Women, Infant and Children)
Summer Food Program
Child and Adult Care Food Program

If you’re reading this blog, these programs may not affect you personally, but you may be surprised at how many families and kids in your area benefit from them. For many children in our country, the school breakfast and lunch programs ensure that they get two healthy meals a day.

Other issues we were there to talk about included:
• Food Safety Enhancement Act: To make sure that there are no exemptions in the area of food safety for producers of fresh produce sold commercially.
• Immigration reform: To ensure a strong, stable workforce to plant, harvest and package the foods we grow.

During this three-day conference we heard from senior officials from both the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. At the Capitol, we had a private session with three of the top senators — Stabenow from Michigan, Boxer from California and Graham from South Carolina.

But most importantly, each of the 500 attendees had the opportunity to visit their own district congressman in his/her office. Initially, Jackie and I teamed up with six other Southern Californians and visited three congressional offices. During an evening reception, Jackie met the agricultural liaison for her district’s congresswomen — newly elected Laura Richardson of Long Beach — and we were able to visit her office privately the next day.

It was exhilarating to take a taxi from our hotel and pull up to the Longworth House office building at the corner of Independence and New Jersey Avenues, go through security and then enter Richardson’s office. (Her door is flanked by the California State flag). During our meeting, we shared with the congresswoman our personal stories of being in the produce industry, of being mothers, and of course, being registered voters. And we talked about the issues of our industry and why they are important to us.

All those telecasts we see on C-Span, the reporters broadcasting from Capitol Hill — they came alive for us!

It’s easy to be a cynic with all that you see on the news, the Internet and hear on the radio. But honestly, the most important thing you can do is be an active citizen.

Register to vote. Write emails or make calls to your congressman or senator about issues that are important to you. (Don’t write letters. After the anthrax scare a few years ago, physical letters may take around 6 to 8 weeks to be delivered.) All those calls and emails are logged in and they definitely influence how our elected officials vote.

And, if you have the chance to go to our nation’s capital, whether it’s business or pleasure, take the time to go to Capitol Hill and see our government in action. It is truly inspiring and meaningful. And yes, you can make an impact.

One last thing. If you are not yet registered to vote for the upcoming elections in November, I urge you to do so TODAY! Don’t be apathetic or take your right to vote for granted. It is a privilege to live in a country where we have freedom of speech and the opportunity to vote!

Patriotically yours,

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