The University of Maine System has reached its goal of feeding its campuses with 20 percent locally grown food two years ahead of schedule, officials say.
In the fall 2017 semester, 23 percent of the food served at Maine’s public universities came from local sources. That represents about $770,000 in sales from local growers and producers, and the officials say they expect to spend about $1.5 million on local food this fiscal year.
“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,” UMS Commissioner James Page said in a news release.
Sodexo, an international food services firm, received a dining services contract for six of the system’s seven campuses in July 2016. As part of its bid, Sodexo pledged to help UMaine reach its goal of providing 20 percent local food by 2020. The flagship campus in Orono handles its own dining operations and has its own 20 percent local commitment, which it expects to reach later this year.
The system announced it surpassed the benchmark two years earlier than promised during a Tuesday luncheon at the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry annual trades show in Augusta.
“We want to connect our campuses – our students especially – with our local suppliers,” said Maeve McInnis of Sodexo. “These farmers and small-business owners have fascinating stories to tell and they are able to convey how important local food purchasing is.”
In 2015 as UMS was looking to negotiate a new food services contract, Maine students and farmers formed coalitions urging system officials to hire someone who would commit to boosting the amount of food sourced locally. They argued that would support local economies and agricultural industries, as well as be better for the environment because food would be shipped shorter distances. Local food is defined as any harvested or produced within 175 miles of one of the system’s campuses.
Sodexo offers food management at about 9,000 sites in the U.S., employing more than 132,000 people. That includes several Maine schools and hospitals, Maine Maritime Academy in Castine and Colby College in Waterville among them.
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