PORTLAND — Fortune 500 company, Sodexo, a global food service provider and one of Maine’s top employers, will purchase $1 million worth of local food in 2021 through its 130-plus local partnerships with farms, food producers and fisheries. The news comes on the heels of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s announcement of a new $6 billion targeted pandemic assistance relief program for food-based businesses and farmers nationwide.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a longstanding champion for Maine’s agricultural industry says “Farmers and food producers have been hit hard by this pandemic, and it’s encouraging to see Sodexo committing to them. Creating institutional markets for local food is critically needed to grow Maine’s agricultural sector.”

Sodexo is one of the state’s largest employers, with 760 employees and a $21 million payroll. It serves 13,000 meals daily at 14 colleges and hospitals across Maine, including Central Maine Medical Center, University of Southern Maine and Southern Maine Community College.

“Sourcing locally and providing culturally reflective menus are vitally important to us, to the environment and to our customers,” says Dan Roy, Sodexo district manager. “We are proud to use our resources to directly benefit Maine’s food-businesses across the State of Maine,” Roy said.

In 2015, Sodexo stood up The Maine Course, a local organization with a mission to increase the company’s local food spend annually, to coordinate local food sourcing and to help local businesses get their products into the regional supply chain.

“In order to really make a difference in Maine’s food economy and to meaningfully increase sustainable fishing and farming practices, we need institutional markets,” says Kyle Foley of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. Sodexo sources 100-percent Gulf of Maine Responsibly Harvested fresh white fish at all of its Maine locations. Amber Lambke of Maine Grains agrees, adding that “our business with a major distributor tripled when we forged a partnership with Sodexo. And now, through the Maine Grain Alliance, my relationship is opening new doors for other grain producers.”

Maine has more farms than any other New England state with 7,600 – 40-percent are owned and operated by Mainers under the age of 34. Farmers and food producers interested in exploring new opportunities with Sodexo can find more information at mainecourse.sodexomyway.com.