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Windham County Program Trucks Local Food To Schools And Hospitals

Howard Weiss-Tisman
Tracy Lake loads his truck with local produce at Harlow Farm in Westminster. Lake delivers the food to schools and hospitals in the region.

Windham Farm and Food was started in 2009 to make it easier for schools to order more food directly from farms.

The program has been growing steadily, and a USDA grant is now going to allow the staff to purchase a refrigerated truck, which could help the group reach even more consumers and farms.

Windham Farm and Food gives area farmers a single website where they can update what is fresh and available.

Food service directors go to the same website, put in a single order and receive only one bill, even if they order from a variety of farms.

Richard Berkfield, executive director of Food Connects, which runs the aggregation and delivery service, says the online ordering service has made it easy for schools and hospitals to increase their purchases of  locally sourced food.

"The program was designed around the needs of school cafeterias, and very busy food service directors," Berkfield said. "Even though they wanted to buy a lot of local food, they didn't have the time to call them all up, get their orders delivered at different times and have to pay all of them separately."

The service was started with technical assistance from UVM Extension and the group has been using a Harlow Farm truck, piggy backing on the farm's own delivery service.

Now a $38,000 USDA grant will allow the group to purchase its own refrigerated truck, which Berkfield says will help extend the service into additional towns in southern Vermont.

"Our hope is that we are going to add another delivery day to the north, to go to the Springfield schools, Chester schools, and potentially some others who have expressed interest in that area," Berkfield said. "And we're also hoping to sell more product to more schools in general."

That growth would follow what Windham Farm and Food has already experienced. In 2011, the organization trucked about $75,000 worth of local produce and goods.

Last year, it delivered about $200,000 worth of food to more than 50 customers, including hospitals, nursing homes and schools.

"The program was designed around the needs of school cafeterias, and very busy food service directors. Even though they wanted to buy a lot of local food, they didn't have the time." - Richard Berkfield, Food Connects executive director

The program is run all year and it also delivers yogurt, cheese, bread, pudding, granola and cider.

John Ayer, food service director at Brattleboro Union High School and Brattleboro Area Middle School, says about 50 percent of the produce he uses comes from within 30 miles of the school.

Walking through the cafeteria, Ayer points to the chicken soup, salad bar and pizza, all of which was prepared with produce from the farm delivery program.

"If it wasn't for Windham Farm and Food I would not be able to buy the kind of produce, and the amounts of produce I buy, because it's just too hard," Ayer said. "You'd have to have every farmer deliver it, and you'd have to have a relationship with every farmer, and it just makes it too difficult."

Windham Farm and Food is working with the Vermont Community Foundation to collect data and see if the service can be replicated in other parts of the state.

The group hopes to have its new truck on the road before the end of the year.

Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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