Prize Supports Regional Project to Increase Local, BIPOC-grown ingredients in meals for UVM Dining Services
Thanks to a $200,000 “Food Vision” prize, an Upper Valley food business will be able to create broader markets for the region’s food growers, especially farmers from the BIPOC and immigrant communities.
Vital Communities, in collaboration with Quechee-VT-based Global Village Foods (GVF), University of Vermont Dining/Sodexo, and the Fresh Start Food Hub (an organization of New American farmers in New Hampshire’s Southern Tier), has been awarded a $200,000 2022 New England Food Vision Prize to develop a regional farm ingredient sourcing supply channel that supports the significant growth that GVF anticipates for their allergy-friendly, culturally relevant, ready-to-eat meals into institutional food service channels and beyond.
The project is one of the eight awardees of the Kendall Foundation’s 2022 New England Food Vision Prize, a multi-year commitment aimed at building resiliency, relationships, and capacity within New England’s farm to institution food supply chain.
The project centers on GVF and its ongoing efforts to incorporate food grown in this region into its rapidly expanding institutional market, thereby creating a stable market for local growers and powering triple-digit growth for GVF’s African-inspired food products.
“We’re super excited because we have always tried to source our ingredients locally,” said Mel Hall, who owns GVF with his wife, Damaris, who grew up on a small family in Kenya. As one of the meal providers for the Upper Valley Everyone Eats program (a pandemic-relief program that pays restaurants to make meals for Vermonters in need, managed by Vital Communities), GVF easily surpassed the requirement of sourcing 10 percent of its ingredients locally, regularly logging 30 to 50 percent, he said. “As we begin to rebound from the pandemic, this grant enables us to grow from a small regional specialty brand to having national potential, and to carry those local growers with us and offer them a guaranteed revenue stream.”
“We are excited to partner with these groups to strengthen our food system with the development of a local ingredient supply chain that serves UVM and other institutions while supporting farm and food business vitality,” said said Nancy LaRowe, Vital Communities Director of Food & Farm and Economy. “Vital Communities has been working closely with Global Village Foods through the Vermont Everyone Eats program, which we administer for our region. [GVF owners] Mel and Damaris Hall have produced thousands of nutritious meals for our community and have been expanding their commitment to source more Vermont farm ingredients for their meals. The Food Vision Prize will allow for that vision to become a reality, which will positively impact our producers, especially BIPOC growers.”
The prize builds on work GVF had already begun thanks to a $250,000 grant earlier this year from the Vermont Department of Agriculture’s Working Lands Enterprise Initiative. That grant brought GVF together with UVM/Sodexo to supply institutional food that maximize Vermont-grown ingredients. The Food Vision prize allows GVF to purchase food processing equipment and hire additional employees to process raw farm product into cleaned, sorted, and cut ingredients like those produced by large-scale international food processors – thus enabling GVF to buy from farms across New England and sell to institutions across New England and the nation. “We’re poised to become the next nationally known Vermont brand, like Ben and Jerry’s,” Hall said.
The project also involves expanding markets for BIPOC and immigrant farmers. Fresh Start Farms is a program of the Manchester, NH-based Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success, or ORIS. Fresh Start supports immigrant farmers, producing technical assistance and exploring wholesale market channels will provide new and diversified revenue streams in the coming years. In this project, ORIS will work with Vital Communities and GVF to identify crops that GVF needs and that are profitable and successful crops for its farmers. In addition, Fresh Start Farms looks forward to offering GVF meals through its own store. The Fresh Start Food Hub in downtown Manchester, NH, plays a critical role in growing New Hampshire’s local food movement, including making fresh, local food accessible and affordable for all New Hampshire residents.
“What’s most intriguing about this is that we are always looking to expand markets not just in number but in type,” said Jameson Small, Fresh Start Farms Director. Fresh Start has been working with New American farmers in New Hampshire’s Southern tier since 2008. Most of the Fresh Start farmers grow a variety of vegetables for farmers markets and community-supported agriculture, whereas supplying this project would mean growing a single crop in large amounts. “As we work with farmers, this style of growing is easier to implement and provide technical assistance for because it’s a limited crop,” Small said. “And the idea that they would be growing for purchase by a company owned by a new American is something our growers really like.”
Vital Communities also will lend its business support skills and connections to support Fresh Start farmers as they enter wholesale markets. “Our facilitation of this partnership will lead to lasting impacts in the food system and regional resilience as an increasing number of BIPOC businesses benefit from stable business relationships, and our institutions benefit from meals that include more locally produced ingredients,” LaRowe said.
UVM Dining contracts with Sodexo to provide food service throughout the institution. Sodexo is a French food services and facilities management company that operates in 55 countries and serves 100 million customers daily.
The New England Food Vision Prize from the Henry P. Kendall Foundation is designed to accelerate progress towards the New England Food Vision, a regional goal to produce at least 50% of New England’s own food by 2060, while supporting healthy food for all, sustainable farming and fishing, and creating thriving communities. One high-leverage strategy to accelerate the region towards this goal is to unlock the market power of large food purchasers, like educational institutions and school districts. The Prize is designed to support ideas that result in higher procurement of regional food by institutions, more regional food in school kitchens and student meals, and increased demand for regional food by students and their families. The Kendall Foundation is a legacy of its namesake, an early twentieth-century New England entrepreneur and industrialist (1878-1959) from Walpole, Massachusetts. Kendall’s wide-ranging, venturesome business instincts led to acquisitions of factories and companies through the company that bore his name, The Kendall Company.
Twenty-four project teams submitted innovative ideas for the 2022 Prize. Collectively, the eight winning projects bring together public school districts and higher education institutions with farmers and fishers, distributors, food hubs, and other food system stakeholders to expand collaboration and increase regionally produced food in education institutions across New England.