UVM researchers focus on localizing where people get food

UVM focuses on food sourcing and systems in the state
Published: Jul. 26, 2022 at 8:18 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Researchers at the University of Vermont’s Food Systems Research Center are studying the national and international web of food systems and how to create a more localized system.

Ellen Kahler, the executive director of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, says a food system is an entire process, from where the food is farmed all the way to the plate, no matter where that plate is. That involves processing, shipping, stocking, cooking and even how food waste is handled -- a global system was rocked by the pandemic.

“We saw food supply chains that are actually much more brittle than we ever actually thought,” said Kahler.

She says Vermonters get about 16% of their food locally. That compares to most New England residents, who get about 14% to 15% locally. But her team says those Vermont numbers can go even higher and they have set a goal of 25% by 2030.

Meredith Niles, the associate director of the Food Systems Research Center at UVM, says their program is the first in the country to partner directly with the USDA on issues including the pandemic, sustainability, access and farming.

“Moving forward we are thinking about the alternative systems that might be necessary as we move toward a post-pandemic world,” said Niles.

She says the focus of the research center will allow the state to find success in transitioning to local and regional systems. When it comes to thinking more regionally, she says it’s about land access, capacity, processing and getting into local markets.

“If we really want to solve global challenges, and challenges facing Vermont and Vermonters we have to consider all of these things all together,” said Niles.

The center just hired a new director, Polly Erickson, who starts later this year. Research on how to get to a more localized and regional system is expected to be published this fall.

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