MONTPELIER >> Sodexo, which serves the food at many of Vermont's colleges and universities, spent $3.22 million purchasing locally-grown food in 2015.
That constitutes 15.4 percent of the food purchased at Sodexo's 15 Vermont accounts.
The figures are contained in a new analysis by Sodexo under its Vermont First commitment, a program the company launched last year with the governor and state officials to increase the amount of local food purchased by Sodexo in the state of Vermont.
"This analysis gives us a starting point to understand exactly what and how much we are buying," said Annie Rowell, the Vermont First coordinator for Sodexo. "Now that we have a baseline, we can better communicate with Vermont farmers and producers what we are looking for to help inform their production plans."
"The amount of detail in the report helps producers better understand how to operate in this market," Rowell said. "This data go way beyond the numbers. It spells out opportunities for providers.''
Sodexo launched Vermont First as a commitment to Gov. Shumlin and state Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross to increase the amount of local food purchased by large institutions in the state. Sodexo provides dining services for 10 campuses, 3 corporate accounts, and 2 healthcare accounts in Vermont.
Under the Vermont First program, Sodexo has hired a local food coordinator, hosted a Vermont Stakeholder Forum at Castleton University and held a series of meetings with producers on how best to work with Sodexo. Through Vermont First, Sodexo is tracking its local purchasing in greater detail than ever before, with the intention of using the data to inform the Vermont and regional supply chain.
"We have a huge opportunity to grow the local purchase of local products like potatoes, beef, milk and maple syrup." Rowell said.
The local food purchase by Sodexo in 2015 is only about a 1 percent increase over 2014. But Rowell said the analysis now allows the company to better understand and accelerate its local purchasing.
"We are just getting started," she said. "We can now focus on getting the information into the hands of the people who can do something with it."
In addition, Rowell announced a new pilot program at Champlain College and Vermont Tech to incorporate food values of each college's community into the institutional food buying practices. The program is based on work done in Vermont by NOFA and Vermont FEED.
Sodexo has expanded the Vermont First concept to Maine, offering the "Maine Course" program, which recently named its first director, Maeve McInnis. The initiative includes partnering with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) to purchase 100 percent responsibly harvested whitefish from the Gulf of Maine by 2020. Sodexo made great strides in the first six months of the program, with several locations already meeting the 100% purchasing goal.