Local Food Access

Why Equity is at the Heart of Food System Transformation

People shop at the food co-op for all sorts of reasons – for bulk teas and spices, or the freshest possible ingredients for a special dinner, or maybe to support local farmers and food businesses, or to find a wide assortment of organic food to avoid feeding your family pesticide residues with their meals. Many of us shopping at the co-op are aware that our US food system has some deep problems, and we want to be part of a solution. We read about farmworkers dying from heat exhaustion in California, after making a long and dangerous trek to reach a job in the United States. We read about food deserts and gross disparities in health outcomes for populations in areas without good access to healthy food. We read about the growing dangers of antibiotic resistance to serious diseases — a problem that the World Health Organization tells us is comparable to climate change in its impacts on human health and caused in large part by feeding antibiotics to livestock to make them grow faster. These are all side-effects of ‘business as usual’ in our food system and a result of buying food at the cheapest possible price from all over the world regardless of how it was grown and by whom.
Participating in a member-owned food business that operates on cooperative principles is an important alternative to ‘business as usual’.

The co-op’s structure allows member-owners to have a say in what we buy and how the profits are distributed. Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op has been a great community partner by sponsoring or contributing to food access programs and events to raise awareness of healthier eating. But are we really addressing inequity? And why is that important?

Inequity, in contrast to inequality, is systematic exclusion from opportunities that would allow equitable outcomes. The US food system is founded upon and continues to be supported by exploitation – of the natural environment and people with little political power.

Our country was stolen from Native Americans, leaving a shameful legacy of broken treaties and people living on reservations with the highest prevalence of diabetes in the country. Much of US wealth was built on the labor of cruelly enslaved peoples, Native American and African, who even now have not been able to access a fair share of that wealth. Wealth is rapidly trickling up — or more accurately, flooding up — to the wealthiest people, with only three people in the US now controlling more wealth than the bottom 50%, according to Forbes Magazine. Through our foreign policies and trade agreements, we continue to exploit people and resources in other countries so that US citizens can enjoy exotic foods and items we consider staples year-round, although we can’t produce them on US land (coffee, tea, and spices, to say nothing about our insatiable demand for petroleum). Through our ‘cheap food’ policy, designed to prevent urban populations from revolting, we continue to exploit farmers and indirectly farmworkers who make wages far below the poverty threshold.

A common reaction among relatively well-educated people in the US is to buy food certified to be organic, eco-labeled in some other way (e.g., Marine Stewardship Council seafood) Fair Trade (international or domestic) or humanely raised. But we can’t buy our way to equity; and as long as racial and financial inequity persists in the food system, we are feeding ourselves on stolen labor and resources.

So how can we work toward greater food system equity? This merits a larger community conversation, and conversations about climate justice and farming issues in Addison County are a good start. Equity will require enabling real participation of everyone in making and implementing decisions about our food, and seizing control away from wealth-mongers, Big Food and Big Ag—agribusinesses that are far more concerned about a steady flow of profits than a steady increase in public health and ecological integrity. It will mean each of us developing more awareness of the ways that our own well-being comes at the expense of other people’s quality of life. It will mean not only buying good food, in a place like the coop where our purchases benefit our community, but participating in political forums to get money out of politics at every level and to fight for policies that provide the privileges of health and political voice enjoyed by the well-to-do to the least advantaged in our society.

And to ‘put the last first’ over and over, until our society is no longer marked by huge disparities in wealth, health, and political power – Molly Anderson

Molly Anderson is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member


The Right to Food in the United States –  What can we do on the local level?

It’s time for the United States to support the human right to food.  Every person must have access to safe, nutritious, and adequate food obtained in dignified ways to be healthy and have an adequate standard of living. Our federal government should commit to respect, protect and fulfill the right to adequate food and nutrition, as almost every other country in the world has done. Recent assaults on federal food assistance by our government have stirred public outrage, as well as resistance from more moderate members of Congress.  But the problem goes deeper than threats to food access in the current administration – the solutions need to be made comprehensive and accessible.

United States opposition to the right to adequate food and nutrition (RtFN) has endured through Democratic and Republican administrations.  Nevertheless, post-World War II bipartisan programs in support of food and economic security were greatly improving hunger and poverty until they were reversed in the early 1980s. Combined federal and private food assistance cobbled together since that time has not been adequate to prevent steady or rising hunger and food insecurity in the U.S. on national and local levels.  In Vermont, the latest available data (2013-2015 average) tell us that 6.3% of households had low food security (reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet) and 5.1% had very low food security (reduced food quantity or disrupted eating patterns because of not having enough money or resources). This problem is especially serious in households with children:  nearly 1 in 5 children in Vermont doesn’t have regular access to enough food for a healthy, active lifestyle.

We shouldn’t be surprised: private charitable food assistance, such as food banks and pantries, and government food assistance such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and WIC cannot end hunger and food insecurity.  These programs do not address the root causes of food insecurity such as racism, falling real wages, and rising inequality in income and assets. People at the front lines of hunger and food insecurity do not participate in the design and implementation of US programs.  Nor do these programs respond to chronic food insecurity by building robust, diversified, sustainable, and decentralized food economies. There is no popularly conceived, comprehensive plan in the U.S. with measurable benchmarks to assess the success or failures of the present approach. Therefore, our capacity to hold government actors accountable to progressively improving food and nutrition status is ultimately constrained.  All of these actions are part of putting the RtFN in action.  Countries endorsing the RtFN and taking steps to make it real (e.g., Brazil, France, all Scandinavian countries, Eastern European countries, Japan) have a lower prevalence of moderate and severe food insecurity than the US, even when their GDP is much lower than the US.  For a look at how U.S. food security is broken down geographically, please click on the graphic, below:

Although nobody expects action at the federal level anytime soon, support may be feasible at town, city and state levels. Democratic action is often most effective and possible when people know and encounter each other regularly, and can hold each other accountable. Middlebury and Vermont could support the RtFN, even without federal action, in many ways.  We could look for guidance to many other places around the world that have created programs in line with the RtFN, then develop a plan for eliminating hunger and food insecurity that could be a model for other cities and states.

To find out more about the state of food security in the U.S., please see the following resources.

USDA Economic Research Service

Hunger Free Vermont

Molly Anderson is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member.



A Big Thank You from Addison County Food Shelves!

Thank you, generous shoppers!  With your help, through the Rally for Change, we were able to donate $3,785 to our local Food Shelves, CVOEO and HOPE.   The food shelves will use these funds to buy more of the shelf stable staples that their clients rely on, but they will also be used to buy items they can not often stock, such as fresh produce, dairy, and baking items for the holidays.  Because of your kindness, hundreds of Vermonters will not have to go without food this holiday season.  Half of these funds were raised by shoppers who rounded up their totals at the register 11/10-11/16.  The Co-op matched these funds and mailed checks out to the food shelves, last week.  What a difference a little spare change can make.

Want to learn more about our local Food Shelves?  Check them out at:




Round Up at the Registers for the Food Shelves 11/10-11/16!

Our Annual Rally for Change for local food shelves, CVOEO and HOPE starts on November 10th!  Just round up your total (or feel free to give more!) at the registers between 11/10 and 11/16 and the Co-op will match your donation!  What an easy way to do good this holiday season!

Hunger is not just an issue on the other side of the world.  Food insecurity is right at home in Vermont, and no one works on the front lines to combat this in Addison County like our two local food shelves – CVOEO and HOPE.    These two organizations spend a lot of their resources trying to get food to hungry Vermonters, but that’s not the whole story.  Want to know more?  Read on, to here about them, in their own words:


Linda Tirado knows poverty first hand. She has lived in it for the majority of her adult life. She also knows what it is to live in the middle class. In her book, Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap  America, she gives a definition of poverty that puts our world in perspective. “Poverty is when a quarter is a miracle. Poor is when a dollar is a miracle.  Broke is when five bucks is a miracle. Wor-
king class is being broke, but doing so in a place that might not be run down. Middle class is being able to own some toys and live in a nice place – and by ”nice” I don’t mean fancy.”

In Addison County: 1 in 5 children and youth know hunger; over 3,500 residents participate in the 3Squares VT program; there are 26 summer meal sites; and 10 senior meal sites server older citizens several times a week, all summer long.  Last summer, between May 1st and August 30th, CVOEO’s Food Shelf in Middlebury served 1,299 individuals. 342 of this number were under the age of 18, and 209 were seniors. Individuals and families come from towns throughout Addison County.

Donna Rose is the Food Shelf Coordinator.  We are located at 54 Creek Road in Middlebury. CVOEO is a nonprofit corporation, formed in 1965 to carry out the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 in Addison, Chittenden, Franklin and Grand Isle counties. CVOEO is one of five Community Action Agencies in Vermont. Its mission is to address fundamental issues of economic, social and racial justice.  It works with people to achieve economic independence, bridge gaps and build futures.  For more information, go to  https://www.cvoeo.org/


HOPE is a private, locally governed organization that has been alleviating the distress of poverty in Addison County for over 50 years by providing a broad range of individualized services &  opportunities. HOPE’s staff members don’t say “this is what we can do”, rather they ask “what do you need?” HOPE fills in the gaps left by government programs, including help with heating & housing, medicines, job-related needs & more. They provide assistance to homeless persons, including those with significant housing barriers such as severe mental illness & substance abuse disorders.

HOPE offers healthy holiday meal baskets, and in the the HOPE Holiday Shop, low-income parents can select, free of charge, new clothing, toys and books for their children.

HOPE runs the largest food shelf in Addison County, serving an average of 600 people each month. Last year, they provided food to 6,248 people, including 481 senior citizens and 1,659 children. In 2015, they provided food for over 61,000 meals, distributed 10,797 pounds of local farm produce, & provided nearly 400 holiday meal boxes. This year they are on track to exceed their 2015 numbers.

HOPE’s Local Food Access Coordinator, Lily Bradburn, has been working with local farmers, picking up donated produce, leading crews to glean food in the fields, & purchasing crops for winter storage. Volunteers are needed to glean,  process and cook food. For more information or to volunteer, call 802-388-3608. HOPE is located at 282 Boardman St., behind Homeward Bound.  For more information, please go to http://www.hope-vt.org/

Thank you Empty Bowl Dinner Participants! We raised $2,500 for Local Food Shelves!

We just wanted to extend a big THANK YOU to all of the folks who made our 25th Empty Bowl Dinner such a success.  With your help, we raised $2,500 for local food shelves, CVOEO and HOPE!

Before the dinner, we had the pleasure of listening to presentations from Donna Rose of CVOEO and Lily Bradburn of HOPE, updating us on the state of food insecurity in Vermont.  They were pleased to inform us that this is the first year in a really long time that food insecurity in Vermont has actually decreased a bit.  We owe so much of that success to the hard work of organizations like these, and to the generous donors, like you, who help to keep them afloat.

We’d also like to extend an extra special thank you to our Sponsors:

Middlebury United Methodist Church

Red Hen Baking Company

Otter Creek Bakery

Champlain Orchard

Golden Russet Farm

Elmer Farm

Middlebury Bagel and Deli

Four Pillars Farm

Middlebury Studio School

North Branch School

Fred Barnes

And of course, a HUGE Thank you to our Volunteers!  Without your hard work moving furniture and decorating, cooking soups and dessert, cleaning and serving, this event would not be possible!

Here are a few great shots of the night!

Fred at the piano!
Fred at the piano!
Beautiful Bowls from Local Potters!
Beautiful Bowls from Local Potters!
Succulent Salad!
Succulent Salad!
Inspiring Artwork From North Branch School!
Inspiring Artwork From North Branch School!
Awesome Volunteers!
Awesome Volunteers!
Soups Ready to Serve!
Soups Ready to Serve!


Vermont’s Local Food System: A Report Card – Part 3

At a recent meeting of the Addison County Hunger Council, three representatives offered interesting perspectives regarding Vermont’s local food systems, and shared the successes and challenges associated with serving each particular group they represented. The Council explored issues throughout the local food system, from the farm workers who produce the food, to the distribution system for getting food to those who need it most. Council members discussed available resources, what supports are necessary, and what opportunities are present.

The representatives sharing presentations were Dr. Teresa Mares of UVM, Lily Bradburn of HOPE, and Jonathan Corcoran of ACORN. Dr. Mares shared insights about how our local food system serves the growing migrant farm worker population in Vermont (see Part 1). Lily Bradburn spoke about how these systems serve members of our community who are food insecure (see Part 2), and Jonathan Corcoran discussed local food system goals and challenges for our community as a whole.  Here at the Co-op, we spend a lot of time thinking about local food and the systems that support it, though it was very interesting and unique to examine it though the lens of these diverse groups of people. Through a three-part review of these presentations, we hope to share what we learned with all of you.  In this third and final installment, we’ll explore the work being done by ACORN to increase local food access and strengthen our local food system as a whole:


Why is local food so important to Vermonters?

Vermont’s food system is critical to our economy, identity, quality of life, and sustainability. From 2007 to 2012 (the last year this data was available) food system economic output expanded 24%, from $6.9 billion to $8.6 billion. Over 60,000 Vermonters are directly employed in Vermont’s food system. From 2002 to 2013, food system employment increased by 5,589 jobs (9.9%). Most of those jobs were created after the Great Recession—4,189 jobs were created from 2009 to 2013. Vermont’s dairy industry brings $2.2 billion in economic activity annually, and a wide range of non-dairy farms of all sizes also produce conventional and organic fruits and vegetables, livestock, hay, maple products, and specialty crops for local, regional, and national markets. Vermont’s dynamic and evolving food system is also made up of entrepreneurs creating a variety of value-added products (e.g., cured meats, baked goods, beer, chocolate); thousands of market outlets; sophisticated distribution networks; and dozens of organizations, programs, and volunteer-driven activities that provide business planning, technical assistance, education, and outreach activities. Nearly 12,000 businesses are part of Vermont’s food system. When measured by employment and gross state product, food manufacturing is the second-largest manufacturing industry in Vermont.  (Source: Vermont Farm to Plate Strategic Plan)

What role does ACORN play?

ACORN (Addison County Relocalization Network) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit community organization based in Middlebury, whose mission is to promote the growth and health of local food and agriculture in Vermont’s Champlain Valley. To raise community awareness and support for local foods, ACORN connects with over 2,800 people via emails and newsletters, and organizes many local events aimed at fostering a connection between area farmers & producers and the community they nourish.  They organize the annual Stone Soup Summit to bring together farmers, food service providers, teachers, administrators, healthcare professionals, parents, students, representatives from Middlebury College, local nonprofits, and other community members to generate and cultivate connections, and raise enthusiasm for Farm-to-School programming.

Another major ACORN event is the annual Tour de Farms: a cycling tour of our county exploring 25 participating farms, food businesses and restaurants. Participants can choose the full 30-mile route, a 14-mile family-friendly route, or those who don’t ride bikes may opt to ride on the Farm Bus. The event culminates with an after party featuring live music and an abundance of local ice cream, food and drinks. Approximately 3000 people have participated in Tour de Farms over the past 8 years, and the 2016 Tour de Farms is just around the corner on Sunday, September 18th.

Tour de Farms bikes
Tour de Farms farmstand

In addition to events like the Tour de Farms, ACORN also publishes the Champlain Valley Local Food and Farm Guide, which helps connect consumers with over 200 area farms focused on small, diversified production. They work with farm-to-school groups, local food service companies, and the Harvest of the Month program to encourage education around seasonal eating and healthy food choices. ACORN has been working to help Middlebury College increase their local food procurement, which has been a slowly moving process but is seeing some positive starts. Additionally, ACORN tracks the amount of local purchasing already happening – our Co-op is the largest in the area, followed by Middlebury College, Porter Medical Center and ANESU Foodservice Cooperative. ACORN plans to track purchasing for all area elementary, middle, and high schools for the 2016-2017 school year, and is encouraged that nearly every school in the County now has a school garden.

Guide for InDesign

Challenges and Solutions

Jonathan and his colleagues at ACORN are trying to increase the amount of local food available in the region, but are challenged by the small-scale production models of many farms as well as the lack of local markets that could support more local food production. Jonathan referenced the ambitious goals of the Farm to Plate initiative devised by the Vermont State Legislature, which aims to strengthen Vermont’s local food system and increase local food production and consumption by increasing the number of acres in food production, the diversity of foods produced, and the overall amount of food produced in Vermont. Jonathan explained that while Addison County is well situated for food distribution, we lack the necessary infrastructure.

One potential solution could come in the form of a burgeoning area food hub – The Vermont Farmers Food Center (VFFC) in Rutland . The VFFC began as a grassroots, volunteer-led project and is spearheading the rebuilding of infrastructure necessary for agriculture to serve as a regional economic engine through the development of 2.93 acres of industrially zoned land with four existing buildings in the heart of Downtown Rutland. VFFC will increase access and availability of locally produced food in the region by expanding markets and market access, aggregation, and distribution of locally produced and value-added agricultural products. Jonathan expressed hope that this new venture could help bridge the infrastructure gap that is preventing our region from reaching its potential with regard to local food production and distribution.

An additional challenge to increasing local food consumption cited in Jonathan’s presentation is the recent boom of mail-order food businesses. As explained in a recent New York Times article, CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) subscriptions are experiencing a steady decline as many consumers opt for online subscriptions which market themselves as CSAs, but lack any of the direct support to local farms that true CSAs provide. Even those online food subscriptions that are not masquerading as CSAs come with a side dish of collateral damage to the local food system. They offer to take the guesswork out of meal planning and preparation by providing the convenience of a pre-packaged, pre-measured set of ingredients and a recipe delivered to your doorstep. This sounds ideal until one considers that the ingredients in the box aren’t coming from a local farmer or producer, they’ve traveled many miles and consumed many resources to reach you, they don’t reflect a seasonal approach to food choices, and when a consumer doesn’t have to chop, measure, or think about the food they’re preparing, this meal-in-a-box serves to broaden the disconnect between consumers and their food.

If Vermont is to succeed in meeting the goals of the Farm to Plate initiative and build a strong, resilient regional food system, consumers will need to play their part by continuing to support local farmers and producers with their food dollars whenever possible. This can prove to be a significant challenge for those living on a tight food budget, though Jonathan expressed encouragement with the work being done locally by folks like Lily Bradburn at HOPE to increase access to healthy, local foods for those with limited means. Additional solutions to this challenge can come from programs like Food For All, offered by many area co-ops, or Crop Cash, which provides an incentive program for 3SquaresVT / SNAP recipients to use their benefits at farmers’ markets, essentially allowing them to double their money when they choose to spend it on local fruits and vegetables from local farmers.

We are extremely grateful for the efforts being made by Jonathan and his colleagues at ACORN to strengthen our local food system and appreciate the way they examine the local food puzzle from every possible angle. Will we reach the goals of the Farm to Plate initiative by 2020? Thanks to organizations like ACORN & the Vermont Farmers Food Center, along with consumers like you who choose to support local foods, we’ll certainly give it our best effort.



Vermont’s Local Food System: A Report Card – Part 2

At a recent meeting of the Addison County Hunger Council, three representatives offered interesting perspectives regarding Vermont’s local food systems, and shared the successes and challenges associated with serving each particular group they represented. The Council explored issues throughout the local food system, from the farm workers who produce the food, to the distribution system for getting food to those who need it most. Council members discussed available resources, what supports are necessary, and what opportunities are present.

The representatives sharing presentations were Dr. Teresa Mares of UVM, Lily Bradburn of HOPE, and Jonathan Corcoran of ACORN. Dr. Mares shared insights about how our local food system serves the growing migrant farm worker population in Vermont. Lily Bradburn spoke about how these systems serve members of our community who are food insecure, and Jonathan Corcoran discussed local food system goals and challenges for our state as a whole.  Here at the Co-op, we spend a lot of time thinking about local food and the systems that support it, though it was very interesting and unique to examine it though the lens of these diverse groups of people. Through a three-part review of these presentations, we hope to share what we learned with all of you. In Part 1, we shared about Vermont’s local food system through the eyes of the migrant farm workers, and now it’s time to learn about how our local food system serves the families in Vermont who are food insecure.

Food Insecurity in Vermont:

Food security is generally defined as the lack of access to enough food to fully meet basic needs at all times due to lack of financial resources.

  • One in five Vermont children experiences hunger or food hardship.
  • More than 20,000 children under 18 live in food insecure households in VT.
  • Nearly 80,000 Vermonters of all ages live in food insecure households.

Food Insecurity with Hunger:

Households that are classified as food insecure with hunger are those in which adults have decreased the quality and quantity of food they consume because of lack of money to the point where they are quite likely to be hungry on a frequent basis, or in which children’s intake has been reduced due to lack of family financial resources, to the point that children are likely to be hungry on a regular basis and adults’ food intake is severely reduced.

  • 6% of all Vermont households are food insecure with hunger

There are state and federal programs in place to address this serious issue, though all too often, the food available to these members of our community is of the highly processed variety. A number of years ago, representatives from HOPE, Middlebury College, ACORN, the local business community, along with several local farmers, including Spencer Blackwell from Elmer Farm and Will Stevens of Golden Russet Farm, got together to discuss the possibility of increasing the amount of locally grown food offered at HOPE’s food shelf. This group recognized that Addison County farmers grow vast amounts of beautiful, healthy organic fruits and vegetables, which are often unavailable or too pricey to those who need it most. They also recognized that these farms often had excess produce available that would not be destined for retail markets, which could instead be diverted to the food shelf.

The Co-op contributed $8,000 to HOPE for the purpose of supporting this work, which allowed HOPE to hire a part time Local Food Access Coordinator. This new hire, Gretchen Cotell,  would build on the work that had already been done on a volunteer basis by the Addison County Gleaning Program. Gretchen successfully wrote a grant for the Hannaford Career Center to obtain a flash freezer unit from the USDA, which allows surplus produce gleaned from local farms to be frozen and stored for food shelf clients to use well beyond the typical growing season.

Last October, Gretchen passed the reins to a new Local Food Access Coordinator – our deli’s own Lily Bradburn! Lily is doing a fantastic job of elevating this program to new heights. By the end of 2015, more than 10,797 pounds of surplus produce had been donated by local farms! This takes monumental and tireless effort on the part of the farmers and a heck of a lot of coordinating and processing effort from Lily.  She has teamed up with multiple volunteer groups to process several hundred pounds of local carrots, and has cooked up over 240 quarts of soup using gleaned and donated local produce.  Lynn Coale and Woody Danforth at the Hannaford Career Center have also been key to this effort, thanks to the use of their culinary arts facility where much of this processing takes place.

“It has been immensely gratifying to see families that formerly left the food shelf with mostly non-perishable, processed food now able to select colorful armloads of red, orange and green veggies” Jeanne Montross, Executive Director of HOPE, said. “We are confident that this trend will continue.”

If Lily’s work thus far in 2016 is any indication, the Local Food Access Program will most certainly allow the trend to continue. Lily is working with farmers to negotiate contracts for crops that do not typically end up being surplus on the farm, so that these foods can be frozen, used in holiday food boxes, or made into value-added products like soups and stews. Last month, over 100 gallons of soup were made through a collaborative project called Just Soup,  where Lily works with fellow Hunger Council Members, Ashley Laux and Elle Bacon, to arrange student volunteers from Middlebury College to collect gleaned and donated products and create soups in the Hannaford Career Center kitchen. The soup is very popular among HOPE’s patrons – by month’s end only 13 gallons of it remained!  Lily is also hard at work setting up events for food shelf patrons – taste tests, cooking demonstrations, recipe swaps – all events geared toward encouraging the incorporation of more healthy, local foods into daily diets. Additionally, Lily is assisting HOPE clients in enrolling in the Co-op’s Food For All program, and arranging tours at the Co-op,  with a focus on familiarizing patrons with the bulk department and the significant savings that can be realized when items are purchased in that manner.

We’re incredibly grateful for Lily’s efforts, and for everyone at HOPE, the many volunteers, the Hannaford Career Center, and, of course, the local farmers that make this all possible. Thanks to their tireless work, HOPE’s Local Food Access program is thriving, and access to healthy, local foods for the food insecure members of our community is on the rise.

Here’s a list of the local farms contributing to this program:

  • Bella Farm
  • Elmer Farm
  • Four Pillars Farm
  • Gildrien Farm
  • Golden Russet Farm
  • Happy Valley Orchard
  • Lakeway Farm
  • Lalumiere Farm
  • Last Resort Farm
  • Lester Farm
  • Marble Rose Farm
  • Middlebury College Organic Garden
  • Mt. Abraham-Lincoln Farm
  • Nash Farm
  • New Leaf Organics
  • Singing Cedars Farm
  • Windfall Orchards