The University of Maine System and Sodexo, Inc. announced Tuesday that they have exceeded the University’s 20% local food by 2020 goal ahead of schedule.

For the 2017 Fall Semester Maine’s public universities sourced 23 percent of the food served on campus from local sources.  This amounted to more than $770,000 in sales for local growers and processors and puts the University System on pace to spend approximately $1.5 million this fiscal year on locally sourced food.  The universities will spend more than $50 million this year on goods and services provided by Mainers.

The University has expanded the number of food vendors it works with to include 134 different Maine food producers, helping to sustain local employment in 75 different communities across the state and contributing to the growth of the Maine food economy.   Maine food products are shipped to the campuses directly by producers or are delivered by food distributors.

The announcement came during the Commissioner’s Luncheon held at the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s 77th Annual Maine Agricultural Trades Show in Augusta.

“In a worldwide marketplace, consumers continue to have strong preferences for the quality and value of locally produced food,” said Walter E. Whitcomb, Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.  “Maine’s public universities and Sodexo are opening new markets for Maine producers, providing our students with access to nutritious, sustainably produced food choices, and proving that food operations of all sizes and locations can put local food on the menu.”

Sodexo, Inc. was awarded the dining service contract for six of the University of Maine System’s seven campuses and began operations on July 1, 2016.    UMaine, which has been a leader in sourcing local food and has aligned with the 20% by 2020 commitment, administers its own dining operations in Orono.  The evaluation of proposals resulting from this competitive, public bidding process included consideration of how a vendor would help the University reach its objectives for local food purchases.

Maine Course serves as a resource for local producers, helping meet Sodexo’s commitment to growing a stronger, more sustainable food economy while giving customers access to a wider variety of the nutritious, sustainably-produced local food they want.  Specific initiatives have included identifying priority products that can be purchased locally when in season, farm tours to learn about products and forge stronger vendor relationships, and scale up events that engaged local producers on the opportunities of selling to institutional customers.

Sodexo has also worked to open new distribution channels for small, food-based businesses to sell locally raised and processed foods to large institutional customers like the University of Maine System.   An example of channel expansion was the May 2017 announcement by the University that Sodexo had selected Circle B Farms of Caribou as a Northern Maine Food Aggregator to help small producers overcome distance and operational barriers to sell to the campuses.

“Our partnership with the universities and Sodexo is a great opportunity for Circle B Farms and our local employees,” said Sam Blackstone, owner of Circle B Farms.  “Our partnership also helps the entire agricultural industry in Northern Maine as farmers work with us to grow their businesses by providing institutional customers like the universities with fresh, locally produced food.”

Maine’s public universities, Sodexo, and partners in the Maine food economy will continue to build on the momentum achieved in the first eighteen months of the local food initiative, building stronger pathways for producers and bringing even more highly valued local food options into campus dining halls.

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