“There are two types of leadership. Leadership by statements of commitment, and then leadership by action. Leadership by action is what is happening right here today.”
Chuck Ross, Vermont Secretary of Agriculture
In the midst of a December rainstorm, 65 producers, distributors, support organizations, and administrators joined the Sodexo Vermont First team at the first Vermont First Stakeholder Forum at Castleton University.
The dual purpose of the event was to foster collective learning about how the Sodexo supply chain works and also identify the potential opportunities for local products within that supply chain.
Through the work of programs like Vermont First, Sodexo is one of the leaders in the food industry responding to increased demand for local and sustainable food. Here is a glimpse of the scale of changes happening across the US food industry:
We see a parallel story happening within Sodexo North America.
This brings us back to the context of our Vermont story. In a state the size of Vermont, we often feel that Vermont’s role and contribution to society
is to use our strong connections and political culture of participation to be the testing grounds for change. At the Vermont First Forum yesterday, Vermont Secretary of Agriculture, Chuck Ross, drew upon this sentiment in his comments regarding Sodexo’s work through Vermont First:
“[Vermont First is a] model that can be replicated across the country, and I’m thrilled that Sodexo is leading the way.”
As we finalize the 2015 local purchasing numbers, a few trends are emerging – both in areas of growth in our local purchasing as well as areas that deserve a closer look in collaboration with our distributor and producer partners.
Through Vermont First, we have introduced an extensive food purchase tracking system that captures purchasing trends in greater detail than we have been able to capture before.
Stay tuned for this information over the next few weeks. You will be able to find that information here on the Vermont First blog, Vermont Farm to Plate, and through local media sources like Vermont Digger.
Tomorrow will be my three month anniversary on the job as the Vermont First Coordinator for Sodexo. While three months is far from a milestone, it is a chunk of time of important learning and building relationships. As we mark the end of this quarter, we are launching into the exhilarating – can I also say ‘white-knuckling’? Maybe throw in a ‘yikes’ somewhere? – transition from ‘thinking‘ to ‘doing.’
What have we been thinking about these past three months, you ask?
Vermont First is Sodexo’s way of saying that buying local is more than a trend, more than a serendipitous, one-time purchase, more than a photo-op. Buying local is a way of doing business that requires strategy, committed partners, and the alignment of values that resonate with all of us: building strong communities, the availability of healthy food, supporting a sustainable, local economy, and protecting the environment. Vermont First will create the road map to integrate these values into the Sodexo business model, which is a model that operates across 80 countries and supports 400,000 employees. The more we think about this, there is one thing we know: we cannot do this alone.
Knowing this, over the past three months, we’ve asked:
What does Vermont think?
In spreading the word about my hire, in news venues like VT Public Radio, a press release that was picked up across Vermont newspapers, and sharing through social media, we reached a lot of people. On a daily basis, the two simple, honest sentences I get from friends to strangers alike are: “That’s really exciting. That’s a big job.”
We need to be sure we always know what Vermont thinks. In order to help accomplish this, we will be assembling an Advisory Board this summer made up of individuals who represent the diverse sectors of the Vermont food system, from people who teach about food, to people who grow food, to people who move food to where it needs to go.
What does New England think?
We presented at the Farm to Institution New England (FINE) summit in Amherst, MA in April, looking to share our story with the region. The most common question after we give presentations to groups like these is, “How do we get a fill in your state here First?”
Vermont First has – you guessed it – a statewide focus. Our regional partners think that while state borders are important, we must balance our state perspective with a regional perspective.
What do Sodexo managers and chefs think?
This is group of people who know an opportunity when they see one and know how to make things happen.
Managers and chefs want more information. They want to be better networked with the farms and food businesses around them. They want to know when and where there is a viable local product available that they should consider. They want to be able to tell the faculty, staff, and students on their campuses where the food they are eating is coming from.
What do farms and food businesses think?
To farms and food businesses in Vermont, Vermont First means a market opportunity for their products. Sodexo is a very different market from other markets in Vermont. Vermont entrepreneurs want to know what Sodexo is looking for and how to do business with us.
What do our vendors think?
Our vendors work hard to bring us the local products that we want. Often times, local sourcing is part of their mission as well and they are happy to see the market growing.
Vendors are on board to help us track our progress by providing us with purchasing reports that tell the story of our shared success as we work towards a common goal.
From Thinking to Doing
We are building our next steps and goals with the thoughts from these important groups. For instance, in response to what we’ve heard, we are currently:
Seeking applicants for our Vermont First Advisory Board, to be made up of a broad representation of individuals engaged in the Vermont food system. This group will provide insight and guidance on the direction of Vermont First. (Interested in being part of the Advisory Board? Click here for our Advisory Board application – due June 12th!)
Organizing summer farm tours to help build stronger connections between farms/food businesses and campuses.
Meeting with and surveying our contracted vendors on an individual basis to improve our systems for communicating to them what we need, from products to reporting on our purchases.
Vermont First is Sodexo’s response to the demand for more local food. In 2014, we purchased 15% local food. Increasing this number will take commitment and patience from all our friends and partners in the food system, both in Vermont and beyond.
On March 25th, Sodexo held a soft kick-off for moving forward on the Vermont First Pledge at Vermont Technical College. Vermont First, as some of you may know, is Sodexo’s commitment to support the production and purchase of local food across Vermont. Vermont First was presented to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture in September 2014 in the form of a pledge, specifically committing Sodexo to :
Hire a local food coordinator
Develop a plan to meet the production needs of Vermont producers
Enable Sodexo Vermont accounts to buy local
Create a steering committee of Vermont stakeholders
Sponsor an annual summit meeting and two working group sessions
In early March, we happily announced that we have successfully hired a local food coordinator, Annie Rowell, who is tasked with moving the remaining commitments in the Vermont First Pledge forward. Learn more about Annie and Vermont First from our interview on Vermont Public Radio’s Morning Edition with Mitch Wortlieb on March 23rd.
As we think about goals for the future, we look back to all that has been done this past year. In 2014, Sodexo purchased $3.2 million of local products across Vermont accounts, just under 15% of the total Vermont account purchases. Now we look to that 85% of non-local dollars spent and think critically about how we can convert those dollars to local in a way that is both responsible to all parties and creates lasting relationships.