UVM students push to to sell local farm produce to campus kitchens
BURLINGTON — A group of University of Vermont students is trying to make it easier for Vermont produce growers to sell their products for use in campus kitchens.
The company that feeds UVM students, Sodexho USA, spends $5 million a year on food at UVM; 85 percent of it goes for food raised and processed outside the state. The remainder is spent on Vermont milk, local bakery goods, Ben & Jerry's ice cream and the like.
Local fruit and vegetable growers get almost none of it.
"Students want organic and locally grown food. We've been collecting signatures and sending postcards to the president. We got hundreds last Earth Day," said Jocelyn Lutter, a sophomore from Ithaca, N.Y.
Local growers would like to deal directly with the UVM dining halls, deliver their produce to the kitchen door and encounter as little red tape and as few extra costs as possible.
But Sodexho prefers to deal with a few distribution companies that assemble products from many growers. It requires its growers to undergo a safety and sanitation inspection by a third party; to carry $5 million in liability insurance; and to deliver their goods in a manner that allows them to be tracked back to the grower from the dining room if a product should be recalled.
"What we wouldn't want is 15 farmers bringing one product each to the back door of UVM," said Jean Comfort, a Sodexho regional operations specialist.
On Friday there was a daylong campus conference that brought together local farmers, Sodexho and Sodexho's vendors. They discussed the obstacles to putting Vermont food on the table at UVM.
The company has a powerful incentive to step up its local buying: Students around the country are demanding fresh-grown local food. For many, local food embodies important values: community, a sustainable food system, preserving farmland.
One recent success story is Bill Suhr, a Shoreham apple producer.
He broke through the barriers because his orchard already met many of Sodexho's needs – a year-round supply of apples, refrigerated trucks to make deliveries, previous federal inspections, the right price.
Suhr was told Friday he could sell to Sodexho. It took eight years of waiting, 10 months of negotiations and the purchase of an additional $4 million in liability insurance.
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