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State Buys Local

05/07/08 5:55PM By Ron Krupp
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(HOST) Author, gardener, and commentator Ron Krupp tells us about a way in which the State of Vermont is facilitating the use of locally grown food.

(KRUPP) For years I've heard the message by the State of Vermont that its citizens need to "Buy Local Food."  And yet I've wondered if the "golden domers" in Montpelier take their own advice.  It's one thing to promote Vermont food products to consumers in local radio and TV ads -- and quite another to seriously address this issues at state institutions.

In 2007, lawmakers directed the Agency of Agriculture to review food-buying practices at state institutions.  Helen Labun Jordan was appointed as the new Agricultural Development Coordinator for the Agency of Agriculture.  Her job is to focus on the state's buying practices.  She helped produce a report on the potential connections between agricultural producers, state government, and state institutions, such as the State Hospital, prisons, and the Veterans' Home.

According to Jordan, no one up to now had actually tracked the amounts of local food being purchased by state institutions from farmers.  She said that one of the first steps was to bring farmers and state buyers together to meet one another.  Then a survey was done of government food purchases, and a determination was made of the barriers to acquiring local food.  One proposal would allow correctional food service managers to buy local crops which have been damaged in some way.

Jordan admits that when you see a "Buy Local" sticker, 'prison' isn't usually the first thing you think of - but the Agency of Agriculture sees Vermont's nine correctional facilities as a potential market for Vermont farmers and food processors and state-sponsored farm-to-table initiatives.  And, unlike schools, prisons are in business all year round.  Jordan says, "Correctional facilities are the primary place where Vermont government directly purchases food.  It's a whole new frontier for the types of markets farmers can sell to."

The Northwest Correctional facility in St. Albans is a good example.  The St. Albans Cooperative Creamery supplies dairy products.  Sysco, a national distributor from Massachusetts, has its food shipments supplemented by Vermont farmers, who supply Black River Produce of North Springfield.  The prison has a four-and-a-half acre garden that supplies up to 40,000 pounds of produce, half going to the local food shelf.

As one can see, the State of Vermont is exploring new routes to buy locally grown food.  Will more prison yards be turned into vegetable gardens?  Will more Vermont food be on the menu at the Statehouse cafeteria?  These are some of the strategies being examined on how to boost the role of state government in the use of locally raised food.
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