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Maine Universities make $1.5 million commitment to local food purchases

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BANGOR The University of Maine System announced that Maine's public universities are committing to using local growers and producers for a minimum of 20 percent of their dining hall food expenditures by the year 2020. Based on current statewide food expenditures of $8.6 million annually, purchases with local producers are expected to exceed $1.5 million per year by 2020.

The University of Maine System's award-winning procurement team released a Request for Proposals on Aug. 31, 2015 to provide dining hall and other food services at six of the system's seven campuses. For the first time the University of Maine System's food service contract will include the requirement that at least 20 percent of food expenditures be sourced locally with a first year goal of 15 percent and an increase of 1 percent annually over the initial five years of the contract. Decisions to provide up to five annual renewals on the contract will be made, in part, on the vendor meeting the 20 percent local food commitment.

Local food is defined as food harvested or produced within 175 miles of any campus to ensure that every corner of the state is considered local to a Maine university. Producers or processors who qualify to do business with any campus as a local provider will be eligible to sell local food to all seven institutions.

'The University's commitment to buying local is going to give family farms like mine better access to the customers it takes to grow our businesses," said Sam Blackstone, owner of Circle B Farms in Caribou, Maine. 'The coordination among the campuses is also very important for small producers like me because I am now certified as a vendor at one campus and could potentially sell my sustainably produced fruits and vegetables to all seven of our state's public universities."

"Research suggests that the Maine economy will grow by nearly an additional dollar for every dollar our universities spend with local food producers,' said Assistant Professor Timothy Waring with the University of Maine School of Economics and the Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions. 'Money spent on locally grown food provides income to local farms, which is used to hire farm workers, purchase inputs from local suppliers, support farming families and pay local property taxes. All of this activity contributes to stronger local economies, especially in Maine's rural agricultural regions."

Dr. Waring has developed a background document on the research regarding the local food spending multiplier that can be accessed here.

In May of 2015 the UMS Board of Trustees unanimously approved a new policy directive providing a preference for local, sustainably produced food.

'Local food production is part of Maine's legacy and could be even more important to our state's future,' said Sam Collins, chair of the UMS Board of Trustees. "The farmers, fishermen, producers and processors that bring sustainable, local food to our tables are a top priority for University research and spending. The 20 percent local by 2020 is a target university leaders expect to hit but hope to exceed.'

The commitment to purchase at least 20 percent of food expenditures with local sources by 2020 and the 175-mile local definition were developed through months of engagement across Maine that included a survey of 2,500 dining hall customers, a review of hundreds of public comments and meetings with campus and community stakeholders as well as farmers, food producers and processors. A briefing was also provided to the University of Maine Board of Agriculture, a panel representing the diversity of Maine agriculture created by the Legislature to advise the chancellor.

Sustainably produced, local food was a priority in the feedback throughout the engagement process and shaped an RFP that makes environmental practices on university campuses a priority. The university will be considering sustainability practices for dining hall operations and food production that include recycling and composting, waste reduction, reuse of leftovers for not-for-profit agencies that feed the hungry, and food supplier certifications and production practices.

'Such sustainability practices enhance students' education by providing tangible, real-world examples of ways each of us can engage in caring for the environment,' said Sonja Birthisel, a PhD student in the Ecology and Environmental Sciences Program at the University of Maine.

The University of Maine manages its own dining services program in Orono, which already locally sources 18 percent of its food purchases, totaling approximately $1 million in annual spending. UMaine's expertise has been critical to the development of the Request for Proposal and the flagship campus will share in the commitment to source 20 percent of its food expenditures with local sources by 2020.

'As Maine's land grant university, we have championed the cause of sustainability and supported Maine's farm families and food businesses since our founding,' said University of Maine President Susan Hunter. 'As we expand our commitment to sustainably produced, local foods, I want thank the thousands of students and stakeholders on our campus and across Maine who are helping to make our universities better neighbors, stewards of our natural resources and more supportive of local economies.'

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