State of Vermont recognizes local foods incentive grantees

Photos courtesy of Windham Northeast Supervisory Union, Kimberly Kaufman.

Photos courtesy of Windham Northeast Supervisory Union, Kimberly Kaufman.

Vermont Business Magazine The Agency of Education in partnership with The Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets recognized six supervisory unions (SU/SDs) that have achieved the highest rates of local purchasing through The Local Foods Incentive Grant program established in 2021. The efforts of schools, farms, community partners, and the state continue to create new and exciting partnerships that are boosting both the economy and food access across the state. 

Windham Northeast has paved the way for this program’s success in recent years. In recognition of their success and to recognize the other programs making impressive strides, on Monday June 10 Interim Secretary Zoie Saunders held an event with the school community at Bellows Falls Union High School.

“Programs like this make Vermont’s education system unique,” said Interim Secretary of Education Zoie Saunders. " In addition to receiving a nourishing meal, students are learning about the local landscapes and economies while deepening their understanding and connection to the state. By instilling an understanding of their surroundings, these SU/SDs are nurturing students to become the future stewards of Vermont.”

Now in its third year, the Local Foods Incentive Grant program assists SU/SDs in purchasing Vermont local foods to serve in their Child Nutrition Programs. SU/SDs that purchased at least 15% local foods will receive a grant award ranging from $0.15 to $0.25 per lunch served, depending on their local purchasing percentage. In real dollars, grant awards typically range from $20,000 to $40,000 per SU/SD.

From maple syrup, to beef, to fresh vegetables, the program supported a variety of agricultural sectors and introduced students to foods that they may not have access to otherwise. The program not only provided fresh and healthy meals to students, but it also helped create a new market for many Vermont farmers.

“We are grateful to all the schools who are offering local Vermont products in their cafeterias,” said Vermont Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts.  “Fresh local food is great for students and supports our farmers and producers. These partnerships between education and agriculture are important because they grow our economy while offering nutritious meals to students. “Now with year-on-year data, the Local Foods Incentive Grant program has led to an increase in local foods purchasing amongst participating SU/SDs. There were thirteen SU/SDs that applied for the grant in SY22-23 and SY23-24, providing us with accurate purchasing figures. When comparing this group of SU/SDs’ year-on-year data, local purchasing increased by 32%, from $730,541.69 in SY22-23 to $963,546.52 in SY23-24.

Of the twenty SU/SDs that applied for the Local Foods Incentive this year, six SU/SDs exceeded 15% and qualified for a grant award:

  1. Windham Northeast - 31% 
  2. Harwood Unified Union- 23%
  3. Mountain Views Supervisory Union - 21%
  4. Mount Abraham – 21%
  5. Addison Northwest – 20%
  6. Lamoille North - 17%

 

Together these six schools received $170,276.85 in grant funding and purchased $614,339.05 worth of local foods. Harwood Unified Union School District dramatically increased their local purchasing, going from 14% in the 2022-23 grant year to 23% in 2023-24, making them the second highest purchaser of local foods in the state. A shift in their approach to food purchasing lead to this drastic purchasing increase.

“We started by strategically placing our USDA Foods order to not include items that we could purchase locally, like raw ground beef and shredded cheddar cheese” said HUUSD Food and Nutrition Co-Director Erika Dolan. “With some extra work ensuring that the items we were purchasing meet the local requirements, an additional expenditure coding, and a different business mindset we hit the 23% mark in FY 22-23! We are extremely proud of this accomplishment.”

Additionally, four SU/SDs applied for the entry year of the grant program, which does not require a specific local purchasing percentage but provides a $0.15 per lunch served grant award to help set them up for future local purchasing. To receive a grant award in future years, they will need to achieve the 15% local purchasing threshold.

Nonprofit partners including NOFA-VT, Shelburne Farms, Green Mountain Farm Direct, Food Connects, and Hunger Free Vermont, among others, have acted as liaisons between the farm and school communities. They’ve worked to support Vermont’s farm to school efforts while building connections with local farmers and the vendors that deliver their products.

Since the program was established in 2021 by the Vermont Legislature the grant has set in motion multi-level community partnerships that are addressing hunger, health, and the economy.

About the Local Foods Incentive Grant

This grant program was rolled out in 2021 as part of a broader legislative effort to increase equitable access to high quality education for all students. High quality meals are an essential part of a high-quality education, and purchasing local foods supports the Vermont economy. The first year of the grant program supports schools as they set up their local purchasing process.  After receiving a first year grant, schools are then eligible for subsequent year grants that are based on the percentage of local foods purchased.  Schools that purchase 15% of their foods locally qualify for an additional 15 cents per meal, while schools that purchase 20% qualify for an additional 20 cents, and schools that purchase 25% qualify for an additional 25 cents. Other SU/SDs are learning from the successes of the first awardees and will use what they have learned to increase local purchasing using this grant in years to come.

About the Vermont Agency of Education

The Agency of Education implements state and federal laws, policies, and regulations to ensure all Vermont learners have equitable access to high-quality learning opportunities. The Agency accomplishes this mission through the provision of its leadership, support, and oversight of Vermont’s public education system.

Connect with the Vermont Agency of Education education.vermont.gov.

About the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets

The Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM) facilitates, supports and encourages the growth and viability of agriculture in Vermont while protecting the working landscape, human health, animal health, plant health, consumers and the environment. 

For more, please visit the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets website at agriculture.vermont.gov.

Source: 6.10.2024 Montpelier, VT- The Agency of Education

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