Vermont Foodbank launches Vermonters Feeding Vermonters, a new program to purchase local produce for Vermonters facing hunger
This year, the Vermont Foodbank is launching Vermonters Feeding Vermonters (VFV), a brand new program that will purchase high quality fruits and vegetables directly from Vermont growers to distribute to Vermonters facing hunger.
Every Vermonter deserves access to the fresh, local food that this state has in such abundance. The Foodbank has been working methodically over the years to increase the amount of fresh, local produce provided, as 24% of food-insecure Vermonters consume one or fewer servings of vegetables per day (CDC Indicator 2013), and 72% of Vermont Foodbank clients report purchasing unhealthy, inexpensive processed foods to save money (Hunger In America 2014). However, progress toward increasing distribution of local produce has been more challenging, as the cost of procuring it locally is greater than purchasing from large, out-of-state wholesalers and farms. But in the past few years the Foodbank has been building partnerships with local farms through their Gleaning Program, and now nearly a quarter of the produce distributed is local. With the right internal and external systems in place, they are now ready to commit to the goal of distributing more local food and are shifting their operations to make it possible.
Improving the health and lives of Vermonters, ensuring access to food, and engaging local communities in hunger relief efforts are key elements of the Foodbank’s current strategic direction. VFV serves these goals ideally, as it provides Vermonters with healthy food while supporting the state’s agricultural economy, an integral component of the Vermont way of life. With increased interest from the state in supporting the agricultural community and the growing strength of Vermont’s farm-to-plate movement, this was the perfect time to invest in a more concerted effort to make this vision a reality.
Nationally, food banks are shifting their operations to distribute more produce. The Vermont Foodbank strives to be at the forefront of this movement and has established innovative models to better accommodate fresh food. With their VeggieVanGo program, providing fresh food at hospitals and schools, they now have the capacity to effectively distribute produce, moving it quickly and efficiently into the hands of those who need it most. Through these efforts, the Foodbank has increased their fresh food distribution from 930,000 pounds of produce in 2013 to two million pounds in 2017 - a 142% increase.
Meanwhile, the Foodbank’s VT Fresh program has spent the past four years paving the way for increased consumption of nutritious food among food shelf and meal site visitors, by implementing cooking demos and test tests, and using principles of behavioral economics to improve the food environment. Because of this work, there has been a rise in the demand for fresh produce from partner food shelves, meal sites and their guests. Now, the goal is to meet that need with more local food.
Over the last several years, the Foodbank has built relationships with more than 80 Vermont farms who have been donating produce and partnering with the Foodbank’s Gleaning Program to get more local produce to Vermonters who need it. Through these partnerships, the Foodbank distributed 430,000 pounds of Vermont produce in FY2016. Through Vermonters Feeding Vermonters, the Foodbank plans to deepen these partnerships, and purchase top quality produce to increase that figure dramatically.
In this initial year, with a focus solely on produce, the Foodbank and farmers agreed upon quantity, price, and a delivery schedule prior to the growing season, formalized by a letter of understanding. The goal will be to source and distribute 160,000 lbs. of locally purchased produce. During the harvest season, farmers will provide regular deliveries to one of the Foodbank’s three branches. Foodbank staff will then distribute the produce to Vermonters facing hunger through their existing channels, including VeggieVanGo, programs for older Vermonters and through their 215 partner food shelves, meal sites, senior centers and after school programs.
VFV makes strides toward several Farm to Plate Strategic Plan Goals – food access, farm viability, and total local consumption.
Food access is integral to the Vermont Foodbank’s mission and this program aligns with that goal by helping more Vermonters access quality food. But this program goes beyond simply ensuring that people have food, it prioritizes fresh food, proven to promote health. Many Foodbank clients struggle with diet-related illness; 23% of households served have a member with diabetes and 46% have a member with high blood pressure (Hunger In America 2014). By helping Vermonters struggling with food insecurity to access fresh, nutritious foods, the Foodbank will help them achieve better health, lower health care bills, and a higher quality of life.
VFV promotes farm viability, by providing an entirely new market for Vermont growers, who will benefit from the security of a known sale of large quantities of wholesale crops early in the season. This partnership will also offer valuable marketing visibility for local farms, giving them access to new audiences.
This program aims to increase the total consumption of local products here in Vermont. For many people struggling to afford food, it can be challenging to prioritize spending extra money to purchase it locally. Through this program, the Foodbank is removing that barrier, and ensuring that top quality local food is available for free to those who need it. As more people are able to enjoy local food, this will help shift behavior and priorities so that more people see the value of local food and prioritize it in their spending.
By purchasing food locally, the Foodbank will be financially supporting the Vermont agricultural economy. A recent study published in the Journal of Foodservice Management & Education called Assessing the Impacts of Local Hospital Food Procurement: Results from Vermont found that every dollar spent on locally produced food contributes an additional 60 cents to the Vermont economy. This means that the power of the Vermonters Feeding Vermonters $130,000 pilot year produce purchasing multiplies into $208,000 invested in Vermont’s economy.
By purchasing locally, the food provided will be fresher and last longer, with less waste. In addition, the amount of fuel expended per pound of distributed food will decrease significantly, resulting in fewer pollutants in the atmosphere and in waterways.
The Vermont Foodbank is thrilled to be making strides towards a Vermont where all Vermonters are healthy and have access to fresh, local food, all while supporting the state’s agricultural economy.
To learn more about this program, visit: https://www.vtfoodbank.org/gather-food/vermonters-feeding-vermonters
Cover Photo: Helping hands in the field make local produce available to Vermonters facing hunger. Credit Vermont Foodbank