Local Vermont Business Helps Bar Holiday Hunger

By Katie Horner, UVM Food Systems Graduate Fellow

In the world of energy bars, there are countless options, and many of those options contain bizarre ingredients that most of us can’t even pronounce. Fortunately, those in need of an energy boost here in the Green Mountain State can ignore the overly abundant, mass-produced products and simply reach for a Garuka Bar. These locally-made, small-batch bars feature raw Vermont honey in a recipe designed to provide the ideal pre-exercise combination of natural carbohydrates and healthy, plant-based fats.

In addition to being a delicious way to fuel up and stave off hunger during a workout or hike, Garuka Bars are also helping stave off hunger for a number of Vermont families this Garuka Bars Promo.jpgholiday season. For the third year in a row, Garuka donated one meal to the Vermont Foodbank for every one of their bars purchased during the week leading up to Thanksgiving; an additional meal was donated for every customer who posted their bar purchase on social media using the hashtag #VTBizCares. This year, the company donated 1,616 holiday meals, an almost 300% increase from the 600 or so meals they were able to donate in 2015. While impressive even out of context, these meal donations become even more important when you consider that an estimated 153,000 Vermonters need to access food shelves and meal service programs each year.

While for many individuals and businesses this kind of philanthropic giving is limited to the holiday season, for Garuka it is a central tenet of the business’ mission. Since its inception in 2011, Garuka has focused on a unique hybrid of local and global social responsibility. While the company focuses on supporting innovative local producers here in Vermont, it also donates 1% of profits to support gorilla conservation efforts in Rwanda. The name of the company translates to ‘return well’ in the national Rwandan language of Kinyarwanda. This concept pervades the company’s social endeavors, such as their partnership with the Vermont Foodbank. For a small business, Garuka has a big impact.

If you ask company founder Mike Rosenberg, this is in part thanks to the support Garuka received from Sodexo over the past five years. Garuka bars are sold at aGaruka Bars.jpglmost every Vermont institution served by Sodexo and at some of the food service provider’s accounts in New Hampshire and Maine. The relationship operates as a two-way street: not only does Sodexo provide a large market for the local energy bars, the bars also align with the goals of Vermont First and the Real Food Challenge, two initiatives that represent core values of many Sodexo accounts in the state. In this way, Garuka exemplifies how local businesses benefit from increased institutional demand for local products.

This begs the question, what is the relationship between local business and addressing hunger in Vermont? According to the Vermont Foodbank website, of 51 donor businesses, about 75% are Vermont-based. When one considers the significant imvermont-foodbankpact that local businesses have on addressing dire problems, like hunger, that affect Vermonters, the mission of Vermont First takes on another dimension. In promoting local products like Garuka Bars, not only is Vermont
First fostering the local Vermont economy; it is also promoting a network of businesses that together are working to help Vermonters in need. So it seems appropriate, at this time of year, to remember the impact we can all have by supporting Vermont businesses, and therefore Vermonters, first.

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As promised…Meet the Vermont First Advisory Board!

We are very excited to announce the creation of the Vermont First Advisory Board! The Vermont First Advisory Board will support Sodexo’s Vermont First Initiative in realizing Sodexo’s goal of strategically increasing the purchase of Vermont products across Sodexo’s Vermont accounts. The Advisory Board is a tremendous ally in providing guidance to moving Vermont First objectives forward. The Board is made up of the following members:

Name Organization Representation Category
Bill Suhr Champlain Orchards  A person who operates a conventional vegetable farm (Eco-Apple Certified)
Jon Slason Harlow Farm A person who operates an organic farm
Tony Risitano Deep Root Organic Coop A person with an intimate understand of food aggregation operation
Mike Rosenberg Garuka Bars A value-added food product business owner
Sean Buchanan Black River Produce/Black River Meats A person with expertise in meat (slaughter, processing, marketing, storage) A distributor who distributes local food
Abbey Willard Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets A person involved in creating or advising policy in Vermont
Erica Campbell Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund Vermont Farm to Plate A person with experience in research and data analysis A person involved in creating or advising policy in Vermont
Olivia Pena University of Vermont A student who attends a Sodexo campus account in Vermont who eats campus food
Abbie Nelson NOFA-VT VT FEED A person who educates others about food and/or food systems A person with experience in research and data analysis
Vern Grubinger UVM Extension A food safety specialist
Heather Lynch-Ellis St. Michael’s College A person who educates others about food and/or food systems
Christina Erickson Champlain College A person who educates others about food and/or food systems
Doug Lantagne UVM Food System Initiative A person who educates others about food and/or food systems
Jane Clifford Clifford Farms Green Mountain Dairy Federation A person who operates a dairy farm

The experience and perspective of this strong group will be instrumental in moving the needle forward on Vermont First objectives.