Congressman Peter Welch and local food groups and farmers are pushing for the USDA’s Food Box program to feed the hungry with food grown from the Green Mountains.
"There is nothing, nothing, nothing more critical than making sure kids are fed and Vermonters are fed. " Welch said Tuesday.
When the pandemic started, Vermont Foodbank officials say that food security jumped from one in 10 Vermonters to one in three.
Long lines were common all through the state as residents waited for free food made possible by CARES Act funding. The program even went a step further than other states.
“We fed Vermonters, we delivered food to the Vermonters' homes, and we bought food from Vermont farmers,” Welch said.
But the federal government recently changed course, stripping Vermont’s contract from the Abbey Group in Sheldon and awarding it instead to two out-of-state vendors -- Sysco and Costa. Welch says that means food won’t be bought from Vermont farms or delivered to rural parts of the state.
“We were able to funnel dollars to those farms and really provide some economic relief at a time of great need,” said Catherine Cusak with Green Mountain Farm-to-School program.
The foodbank’s Nicole Whalen says they found out on short notice, causing Vermont to miss out on half of the food boxes it had hoped to receive during the final phase of the program. Costa and Sysco are both excellent companies and they have been collaborative and helpful to work with, but the fact is we could have started sooner, served more people, and supported local farms if the USDA had not made this change," she said.
Farmers like Angus Baldwin of Jeffersonville also say they’re frustrated. “It is cheaper probably to source from Sysco and Costa but it certainly doesn’t do much to contribute to the well-being and vitality of our communities,” he said.
"This really needs to be reversed to increase food security, to help Vermont farmers, and to essentially boost the local economy by buying local, " Welch said.