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Vermont First: Affiliate Partner Profile

July 22, 2019

We are pleased to welcome Vermont First as an affiliate partner.  We have worked with VT First for many years through several of the state’s universities and the VT First coordinator, Annie Rowell, currently sits on our board.

The program is Sodexo’s commitment to buying local food first.  Founded in 1966, Sodexo provides facilities management and food service primarily to institutions (schools, universities, hospitals).  In Vermont, Sodexo serves 27,656 meals daily. VT First was launched in VT in 2014 to help grow the state’s local food economy.  

Vermont First is a commitment to the State of Vermont, their business partners, and the communities in which they live and work.  Through strategic purchasing and collaboration with stakeholders, they aim to grow market opportunity for local producers, stimulate job growth, and ensure the viability of Vermont’s working lands.  Just like the Vermont Fresh Network, their definition of local is: Vermont grown or manufactured plus a 30-mile radius around the state’s borders. They also support a tiered-buying approach for regionally-produced products.

In 2018, their accounts purchased from 184+ local producers for an average of 13.3% spent on local food, or a total of $2.77 million.

VT First is governed by an executive committee of Sodexo managers, including chefs, sustainability manager.  The advisory board is made up of many VT food system stakeholders, including farmers and producers, Extension agents, and distributors.

The focus of the program is to leverage Sodexo’s statewide presence to strategically buy local.  They developed a sophisticated, transparent tracking system in order to gauge how they are doing across all campuses.  They then analyze food spending with chefs, managers, and their Advisory Board in order to identify local product shift opportunities.  Priority products, Harvest of the Month, and their local beef program in partnership with Black River Meats are three key programs they have developed to align their purchasing and menu planning with local product availability.

In 2018, Vermont First partnered with Farm to Plate, the VT Agency of Agriculture, and UVM Events to host the Taking Root Student Symposium, a statewide farm to institution-focused gathering for Vermont college students to learn more about the importance of farm to institution and make career connections with prospective Vermont food system employers.  Over 80 Vermont college students from seven different campuses attended. 

Recently, Sodexo received an Outstanding Case Study Award at the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council national summit for VT First’s work - congratulations!

This summer, VT First has scheduled a handful of exciting field trips for Sodexo staff.  They will have the opportunity to visit a range of local producers all over the state. Nitty Gritty Grain Company, Lewis Creek Farm, Georgia Mountain Maples, Pomykala Farm, Snow Farm, Ceres Greens, Jasper Hill Farm, Vermont Soy, the VTFoodbank, Grow Compost of VT, and more are all on the list.  Getting out and meeting the folks who grow the food is an important part of the farm-to-institution model.

We look forward to a continued partnership with the VT First team!


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