Staff Blog

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This is a space where Foundation staff share their thoughts and musings on giving and community:

Sharing the Bounty

Posted by: Jen Peterson on 9/16/2016

These days I’m struggling to find time to make the home-grown tomato and cucumber sandwiches I look forward to all year, but, frankly, I’m okay with that. I’ve been busier than expected this summer, stepping in and stepping up to lead the Food and Farm Initiative fall grantmaking activities as my wonderful colleague Janet McLaughlin moves into her new role as Executive Director of the Permanent Fund’s Vermont Birth to Five. As I dig into reading progress reports of current grantees and talk with them about concepts for a fifth year of funding, I also find myself increasingly excited about what’s been accomplished so far and how the grantees want to build on that work in the next round of grantmaking. 

Four years ago, we at the Vermont Community Foundation looked around and asked ourselves, “What can we do to help low-income Vermonters access local food and help Vermont farmers to thrive?” Our answer was the Food and Farm Initiative. Now, four years into the five-year effort, we can tell you that together with our partners, we are making it easier for Vermont kids to eat local foods in school, for Vermont farmers to sell to local schools and other institutions, and for nonprofits and community leaders to align their local food and anti-hunger work.

There are many examples of what this looks—and tastes!—like within our rural communities. Today I want to tell you more about how Vermont kids are able to eat more local foods. Stay tuned for future posts where I will touch on the other areas where we’re seeing progress!

Thanks in part to the grants we’ve made toward anti-hunger and food systems work, 11,000 kids now attend schools with universal meal programs where meals are offered free of charge to all kids. Not only does this mean that more students are participating in school meals—it also means that school food directors can purchase more local food for those meals. Here’s one school’s story:

The Walden School in West Danville is a small school of 100 students, ranging from pre-kindergarten through 8th grade. Before 2015, the Walden School offered free and reduced meals to eligible students. However, with technical support from Hunger Free Vermont—funded by the Food and Farm Initiative—Walden School was able to enroll in the new Community Eligibility Program and began serving free meals to all students in August 2015. The significant increase in the number of children eating school meals resulted in a large increase in USDA reimbursements to the school’s meal program, and that provided the boost Walden needed to economically buy more local foods for their students. Thanks to the support from Hunger Free Vermont, the school’s food service manager was able to increase local purchases—nearly quadrupling Walden’s purchasing from Green Mountain Farm to School from $1,238 to $4,656 in the first year.

This is just a small sampling of the great news we’ve been hearing about over the past few months, and I’m excited to share more with you in upcoming blog posts. When I finally do get around to making those tomato and cucumber sandwiches, I’ll be thinking of stories like the Walden School’s. And as I enjoy the bounty of Vermont’s working landscape, I’ll feel tremendous gratitude, knowing that so many more people are now able to enjoy that bounty too.

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