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USDA grants Food Connects Funds for local food system development

www.foodconnects.org

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded $99,990 in funding to Food Connects in its latest round of awards. One of two Vermont grantees, Food Connects will leverage these funds to develop new supply chains focused on meeting the needs of school nutrition programs. 

 

To increase the impact of the project, Food Connects is collaborating with three Farm to School partners—Vital Communities, Green Mountain Farm-to-School, and VT FEED. This collaboration connects local food systems to larger regional networks, allowing for the creation of new supply chains and specialty products to move throughout the state. 

 

Food Connects will amplify its current outreach efforts, reaching more schools and developing a broadened customer base for local farms and producers. In partnership with VT FEED, Food Connects will also increase its support to school nutrition professionals (SNPs) through new professional development opportunities and procurement training.

 

“This grant is a natural next step for Food Connects and will help us grow to meet the needs of the moment,” says Richard Berkfield, Food Connects Executive Director. “Interest in the Food Hub—and local food in general—skyrocketed in the wake of COVID-19 and we continue to see unprecedented demands placed on school nutrition professionals working to cope with an unpredictable future.”

 

COVID-19 greatly changed the landscape Food Connects operates in since originally writing the grant. While the grant goals remain the same, implementation will likely vary and need to be flexible in order to remain relevant. Notably, SNPs throughout the state are grappling with new restrictions and limitations put in place in response to the pandemic. To-go meals and delivering multiple days worth of food at a time have become the new norm. 

 

Food Connects has also seen positive changes post-COVID: a new value placed on local food, consumers more concerned about supply chain resilience, and an appreciation for the role school nutrition plays in children’s lives. With this project, Food Connects and its partners will lay the groundwork for a decentralized, regional alternative to the national monoliths, enabling schools and consumers to buy a variety of products locally, sustainably, and easily. 

 

To learn more and follow Food Connects’ work, go to www.foodconnects.org

 

Food Connects is an entrepreneurial non-profit that delivers locally produced food as well as educational and consulting services aimed at transforming local food systems. The Food Hub aggregates and delivers from over 70 local farms and food producers to over 140 buyers in southeast Vermont, southwest New Hampshire, and western Massachusetts. Their educational services focus Farm to School programming. Acknowledged as a statewide leader, the program supports over 30 schools to increase local food purchasing, school meal participation, and food, farm, and nutrition education. Together these core programs contribute to a vibrant local economy by increasing local food purchases by schools and improving students’ nutrition and academic performance. Additionally, Food Connects is frequently hired to provide leadership and consulting services for efforts aimed at transforming local food systems in the New England region.