Green Mountain Farm-to-School’s mission-driven food hub, Green Mountain Farm Direct (Farm Direct), is a reliable source for wholesale local food purchasing that is working to improve farm viability in the region. Last year, GMFD worked with 34 food producers to distribute $409,344 worth of local food to almost 100 schools, retailers, and institutions in Northern Vermont. What makes GMFD so successful, and why do customers choose to source local products through our food hub? We caught up with Craig Locarno, Food Service Director at Barre City Schools, to find out.
Craig first started working with Farm Direct in 2009 when the food hub was in its first year of operation. He was working at the Lyndon Institute at the time and had a vision for establishing a farm to school program there. “I wanted to support a local business,” explains Craig, “so I reached out, and from there we embarked on a journey to develop a farm to school program together. Farm Direct became my resource for bringing local products into the school.”
That was almost 10 years ago and today, Craig is still a loyal Farm Direct customer – he purchased $40,000 worth of local food from farm Direct for Barre City Schools last year alone. That farm to school program Craig dreamt of back in 2009 was successfully established, and Craig is still working to bring local food onto more students’ plates. “I want to provide a quality food program to our community, that’s why I do what I do every day,” says Craig, “We need to teach kids how to eat better, eat seasonally, and support local farms.”
When asked what his favorite part of Farm Direct is, Craig shares that ultimately, “its supporting local businesses. That is my number one goal. My second favorite thing is the quality of the products, my third favorite thing is supporting our neighbors by purchasing local food – that’s why we live in Vermont.”
Educating students about healthy eating and the importance of supporting local agriculture is also paramount to Craig and working with Farm Direct makes that job easier. “Farm Direct offers quality, accessibility and a better opportunity to educate students about healthy, local eating,” Craig says, “It’s just easier to educate students about making a good choice when you have a quality local product.”
Still, there are many challenges, Craig faces as a food service director. “I am still working really hard to educate, promote and explain the reason why we are sourcing local,” he says. Often, the decisions he needs to make as a food service director are influenced by finances. Yet, purchasing products through Farm Direct makes fiscal sense, “there is no doubt that sourcing local, fresh, products are just as cheap – or cheaper than sourcing commercial commodities,” says Craig. Staples like yogurt, apples, and milk he can purchase locally through Farm Direct and pay a competitive price, allowing him to put high-quality Kingdom Creamery milk in school milk dispensers – a groundbreaking move.
Farm Direct is thrilled to be working with Craig, too. “We highly value long-time customers like Craig,” says Amrita Parry, food hub manager, “establishing strong relationships with individuals dedicated to bringing healthy, local food to students is really what we are all about.”