Institutional Procurement Tools for Local and Regional Food Buying
Does your organization or institution need a template to assist with articulating your goals for buying local? Over the past two years, Abbie Nelson and Erin Buckwalter of NOFA-VT have worked with a variety of partners and institutions to research how institutions incorporate values in their local and regional purchasing programs. Through this work, we developed tools that support institutions to define and communicate their food purchasing values, and subsequently develop and market a values-based tiered buying system that includes local and regional foods.
In this webinar, Abbie and Erin will provide an overview of our research and show the tools that we have created. It will be useful for anyone working with an institution looking to set goals for buying locally and regionally.
At NOFA-VT, we’ve been working with food service giant Sodexo for four years now during the Winter Conference at UVM, and we’ve seen their capacity for and commitment to using local foods improve each year. We’re glad to see the change formalized in the company’s new “Vermont First” campaign.
Sodexo is undeniably a multi-national corporation, and the move is certainly based off of market pressure rather than pure goodwill. Rather than seeing that as cause for suspicion, however, it can be considered a victory: Vermont’s support of and demand for local foods is strong enough to sway the purchasing decisions of a company that operates in 90 countries.
And while many Vermont producers do not currently operate at the scale Sodexo requires, an increase in institutional purchasing such as that done by Sodexo represents an opportunity for growth in a state already hip-deep in farmers’ markets and CSAs. New farmers or farmer cooperatives may be able to succeed in areas that otherwise would be saturated or, alternatively, may lack the population to support them through traditional direct marketing means.
Additionally, institutional purchasing makes local food immediately available to more people, including those who may not be otherwise engaged in the local foods movement.
It remains to be seen how much Sodexo will dedicate to the change — according to VTDigger, no official benchmarks have been set, though the company has hired a local foods coordinator. We hope to see real increases in local purchasing, which could fuel both the local and regional food economy. Even an incremental change in Sodexo’s Vermont purchasing habits will show up on 34,000 plates each day. That represents a great opportunity for farmers and consumers alike, as well as a potential model for other institutional buyers.
Farmers interested in selling to institutional markets are encouraged to fill out the Wholesale and Institutional Markets Survey, and to contact NOFA-VT if you would like technical assistance in business planning, creating contracts, or production.
Hey farmers! We’re partnering with the Agency of Ag on a project to help determine the level of interest from producers in institutional and wholesale markets.
We’re hoping you can take about 10 minutes out of this busy season to fill out a short survey, which will help us understand the current supply and demand in this market, the level of interest amongst producers, the room for growth, and what kinds of support and technical assistance would be most useful.
We see wholesale and institutional sales (such as those to grocery stores, schools, and hospitals) as a key market for future local foods growth. These markets reach large numbers of customers, many of whom may not be seeking out local products or participating in direct-market channels such as farmers’ markets and CSAs. By making local foods more accessible to more people, we can increase awareness and create demand.
We hope that you’ll help us analyze and understand this market, your participation in it, and how best we can work with producers and other partners to make wholesale and institutional sales successful for Vermont farmers and processors.
This past Saturday, Bear Pond Books in Montpelier hosted author Gail Gibbons and NOFA’s own Education Coordinator, Abbie Nelson, for a short discussion on local foods and their role in schools.
The two women discussed the incorporation of healthy practices into school systems and the importance of agricultural education for our youth. Amongst the crowd were several teachers from Barre Town School, and other educators across Washington County.
Throughout the talk, Abbie focused on the ways that Vermont FEED (a partnership between NOFA Vermont, Shelburne Farms, and Food Works) has worked statewide to get local food into schools. She discussed the importance of young students associating a fruit or vegetable on their plate with where it came from on a farm or in a garden.
Abbie also introduced the New School Cuisine cookbook, which will be released within the month to every school in Vermont as well as every Childhood Nutrition program throughout the nation. This cookbook includes a wide variety of farm fresh, healthy recipes in large serving sizes for cafeteria use. It allows students to associate with healthy foods on a daily basis in the classroom. Lastly, Abbie discussed the Nutrition Education Guide for schools. The Nutrition Education Guide serves as an educational tool for teachers to assess where they can incorporate nutrition education and the best ways to make it work.
Gail Gibbons, author and illustrator of over 150 children’s books, also spoke about her influence on child nutrition education. Originally in the film industry, Gail recognized the need for nutrition awareness while working with NBC television programs. After traveling to many different cities across the country for research, she acknowledged that many children did not know where their food came from. Her first book based on agriculture titled The Milk Makers goes into the development of milk in a cow and the processing it must go through to make it to the refrigerator. Other books include The Vegetables We Eat, Apples, Corn, and The Honey Makers. Check out Gail’s website and list of publications at http://www.gailgibbons.com/.
The Farm to Institution Forum: Advancing Access to Local Foods workshop stood out among the plentiful list of inspiring and informative discussions during these years Winter Conference. The forum kicked off with an informational presentation providing hard numbers behind the demand for local produce and eggs by local Vermont Institutions. NOFA’s study showed that over 70% of institutions purchase local fruit and vegetables, and want to purchase more. This research also showed that institutions would rather purchase from their primary distributors or directly from the farmer, which provided a perfect transition into the discussion about to take place.
The open floor, discussion based forum got down to the nitty gritty of the Farm to Plate program and addressed how we may bridge the gap between local farms and large institutions. The fishbowl panel of speakers, prompted opinions from institution reps, local and large-scale farmers, distribution agencies, and a number of sit in attendees, providing a wealth of perspectives. One of the biggest points made by Paul, a local farmer panelist member, explained that local farmers couldn’t compete with the low prices of large scale producers. The representative from a school institution responded that he would rather purchase locally for higher quality and longer lasting food, despite the higher price. It was surprising but refreshing to hear such a large institution advocate for purchasing local food throughout the entire workshop. The question still remained; how does this sector cultivate direct relationships with farmers and institutions?
A representative from Upper Valley Produce remarked, “they should be putting pictures of local farmers up on the walls in school cafeterias!” While this may have evoked laughter among the diverse audience members, she certainly had a point. Maybe institutions would be more likely to buy local if the distribution process was more transparent, and consumers were more connected to their food. The discussion element of this workshop revealed just how essential it is to bring the multiple members from all sides of distribution together in one room. The fishbowl discussion allowed opinions from panelist NOFA members as well as attendees in the workshop, which promoted a diversity of topics and discussion throughout. The three hours spent juggling costs and benefits will surely help reach their goal of 10% Farm to Plate distribution by 2020.
Guest blogger: Laura Friedland
Local Farms • Healthy Food • Strong Communities • • • the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont