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January 10, 2018

UMaine System surpasses its goal for local food purchases

Courtesy / University of Maine System
Courtesy / University of Maine System
Sam Blackstone, owner of Circle B Farms of Caribou, shows off some green peppers during a tour of his farm. In May 2017, Sodexo selected Circle B Farms as a Northern Maine food aggregator to help small producers overcome distance and operational barriers to sell to the University of Maine System's seven campuses.

The University of Maine System and Sodexo Inc. announced Tuesday the state's universities reached the goal of having at least 20% of the food served on campus come from local sources three years ahead of their 2020 goal.

The announcement was made at the 77th annual Maine Agricultural Trades Show in Augusta during a noon luncheon hosted by Walter E. Whitcomb, commissioner of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. The trades show runs through Thursday.

For the 2017 fall semester, UMaine System campuses sourced 23% of their food from local sources, according to a news release. That 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 year on goods and services provided by Maine vendors.

The UMaine System has expanded the number of food vendors view 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.

"In a worldwide marketplace, consumers continue to have strong preferences for the quality and value of locally produced food," Whitcomb said "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."

Partnering with Sodexo

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 UMaine System reach its objectives for local food purchases.

"The workforce focus of Maine's universities has its beginnings in our 150-year tradition of supporting local growers, fishermen and processors with our research as well as our academic and business development programs," said UMaine System Chancellor James H. Page. "Our local food commitment builds a stronger statewide economy, keeps more dollars in our communities, offers better and healthier choices for our students, and leverages the purchasing power of the universities to build job-creating distribution channels that connect local producers with large institutional customers."

Representatives from the campuses, including UMaine's Cooperative Extension, serve on a local food university governance group and collaborate closely with campus-based Sodexo managers and the company's Maine Course Initiative.

Connecting students with local food producers

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.

"We want to connect our campuses — our students especially — with our local suppliers," said Maeve McInnis, Maine Course director for Sodexo. "These farmers and small business owners have fascinating stories to tell and they are able to convey how important local food purchasing is."

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.

One example of channel expansion was the May 2017 announcement 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."

"Through our partnerships with local growers, fishermen and business owners, Sodexo is able to provide locally sourced food that benefits the Maine economy and environment and provides high quality dining for our guests at campuses throughout the state," said McInnis. "Recognizing the importance of local purchasing through Sodexo's Maine Course, the University of Maine System is leading the industry in sustainable, innovative campus dining."

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Local food vendors for UMaine System

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