BANGOR, Maine — The University of Maine System announced Monday that it has committed to purchasing 20 percent of food served on its campuses from local producers within the next five years.
The system’s procurement team released a request for proposals Monday, seeking a company to supply dining hall and other food services at six of the system’s seven campuses. The University of Maine’s flagship campus in Orono handles its own food services.
The request for proposals stipulates that the provider should be able to ensure at least 15 percent of the food be locally purchased in the first year of the contract, increasing by 1 percentage point annually to reach 20 percent by 2020.
That 20 percent equates to about $1.7 million in local food purchases, according to the system, which spends about $8.6 million per year feeding students and staff.
This is in line with what a coalition of Maine growers, harvesters and agricultural organizations, calling itself Maine Food for the UMaine System, called for in a report issued earlier this summer.
“We’ve incorporated a tremendous amount of their input,” said Rachel Piper, who served on the system’s procurement team.
Food is considered local if it is harvested or produced within 175 miles of the campus at which it is served. However, a food provider that does business with any campus may sell food to any of the other seven campuses, according to the system. That definition was developed through discussions with Maine farmers and surveys of 2,500 dining hall customers, according to the system.
“The university’s commitment to buying local is going to give farms like mine better access to the customers it takes to grow our business,” said Sam Blackstown, owner of Circle B Farms in Caribou, in a Monday news release.
The Maine Food for the UMaine System report calls agriculture a “bright spot” in Maine’s economy. Census data say that between 2007 and 2012, the value of agricultural produce in Maine increased from $617 million to $764 million, or nearly 25 percent.
System officials in May unanimously passed a new policy directive stating that the universities would give preference to sustainable, local food, where financially and logistically possible.
The University of Maine in Orono, while it won’t be part of the future contract, already draws about 18 percent of its food from local sources, and plans to hit the 20 percent threshold by 2020, according to systems spokesman Dan Demeritt. UMaine spends about $1 million per year on local food.
System officials said Monday that UMaine’s experience running its own local-focus dining program was critical in shaping the systemwide request for proposals.
Rudy Gabrielson, chief procurement officer for the system, said the firm that wins the food services contract will have to meet this goal without having a significant impact on students’ wallets.
“The key here is balancing the economics and our aspirations on food,” Gabrielson said. He said the system needs to hire a company that can meet the 20 percent threshold, or even surpass it, without causing the costs of feeding university students and staff to jump.
The system’s $12.5 million contract with Aramark, a national food services company based in Philadelphia, has been in place for a decade. System trustees likely will be asked to approve the next contract by early 2016 after reviewing food services proposals.
“Local food production is part of Maine’s legacy and could be even more important to our state’s future,” UMS board Chairman Sam Collins said Monday. “The farmers, fishermen, producers and processors that bring sustainable, local food to our tables are a top priority for university research and spending.”
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