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'The Produce Pair' goes on air to promote fruits and vegetables
By Brian Gaylord

SALINAS, CA -- Dan (The Produce Man) Avakian and Mark (Guido The Gardener) Ferro spread the good word about the health benefits of fruits and vegetables to a national radio audience each Saturday morning.

Whether they are preaching to the converted or drawing converts into the fold, they are reaching a national audience from their San Francisco studio.

"We get a lot of e-mails from folks," said Mr. Ferro. "Often, listeners' e-mail queries are addressed on the show."

The hour-long show is called "The Produce Pair" and broadcasts on United Talk Network. The show used to allow listeners to call in. But the hosts changed the format about a year ago to where they now just converse back and forth with each other, with in-house guests or with special guests who call in to the show.

Tony Merola, a Florida-based chef and a well-known figure in the produce industry, is a favorite call-in guest to the show.

The hosts also do a one-minute radio spot, called "Produce Pairables," that runs on stations across the country. That spot can be heard in many states, whereas "The Produce Pair" is heard in a half-dozen states, Mr. Avakian said.

The radio show is a smorgasbord of practical information on the preparation and healthful properties of various produce items mixed with irreverent, off-the-cuff banter between the hosts.

The show can't be heard in the San Francisco Bay Area at present, but that's about to change. The show's hosts have negotiated a deal with KNEW 910 AM, one of San Francisco's major stations. Their Saturday show will be rebroadcast in a Sunday afternoon time slot for KNEW. The Sunday show occasionally will feature the hosts doing live remotes, Mr. Avakian said.

KVON 1440 AM in Napa, CA, has just picked up the show as well, Mr. Avakian said. The station covers Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties.

Mr. Ferro prodded longtime friend Mr. Avakian into doing the radio gig, and together they have been bringing produce insights to the radio airwaves since 1998. Mr. Avakian had prior experience in radio as a station owner and disc jockey. "I knew then and still know that [Mr. Avakian] and I work well together," Mr. Ferro said. "There's an energy and excitement, and hopefully that comes across to Joe and Jane shopper."

Mr. Ferro is employed by natural foods retail giant Whole Foods Market in a capacity he refers to as "demo dude and customer service" for the Northern Pacific region, where his duties include, among other things, running training sessions for produce team members, he said.

Mr. Ferro has written a weekly produce column for the past 12 years for the Alameda Journal, as well as writing a produce newsletter every two weeks since 1996 for the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market.

"Down the line, whether it's radio, books or TV spots, we want to be two guys that folks turn to [for produce information]," said Mr. Ferro.

Mr. Avakian works as operations manager for San Francisco-based Organic Express, perhaps the nation's largest home distributor of 100 percent certified-organic produce and groceries. Among his accomplishments in nearly 30 years in the fresh produce industry, he helped pioneer the produce program for Costco Wholesale in Northern California. He also helped establish the produce quality-assurance program for Sysco Food Services at its Northern California Bay Area distribution center.

Also, Mr. Avakian writes a monthly produce column for the Alameda Sun newspaper and a column for the bi-monthly Alameda magazine.

Mr. Avakian's approach to the radio show is to promote the enjoyment of fresh fruits and vegetables first and the nutritional value second, he said. While the hosts try not to lecture listeners on the benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables, they do try to promote eating fresh produce, he said. Little by little, they'd like to see consumers make vegetables the center of their plate.

"We just present it," Mr. Avakian said. "We say, 'Here's the way you can try it, here's the nutritional value.'"

Despite being well-versed in their subject matter, the hosts never claim to be experts, Mr. Avakian said. In fact, the nationally broadcast show has been an education for the hosts, he said.

For example, he learned that what he refers to as a "chayote," a member of the squash family, is called a "mirliton" in Louisiana, Mr. Avakian said.