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Northern Maine Food Aggregator Named For Universities

Circle B Farms of Caribou Named Northern Maine Food Aggregator
for Sodexo and Maine’s Public Universities

 New distribution channel creating opportunities for several Aroostook county farms as local food purchases by the universities surpass $1.25 Million in first ten months of 20% Local by 2020 Initiative

PRESQUE ISLE, MAINE – Sodexo, Inc. has named Circle B Farms of Caribou, Maine as its Northern Maine Food Aggregator as part of an effort to establish a new, easily accessible channel for farmers from the region to sell locally raised and processed food to Maine’s public universities.  The designation, finalized earlier this spring, came following a request for information launched by Sodexo to overcome distance and operational barriers that could have prevented Northern Maine farmers from selling directly to university campuses.

As the Northern Maine Food Aggregator for Sodexo, Circle B Farms collects and transports locally sourced produce directly to university campuses in Presque Isle, Fort Kent, and Machias.  Circle B Farms also supplies the University of Maine at Orono, the one institution in the seven campus system that manages its own dining services operations.

Sam Blackstone, owner of Circle B Farms, and John Rebar, Executive Director of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension are providing the University of Maine System Board of Trustees with a briefing at the Sunday, May 21, 2017 meeting at the University of Maine at Presque Isle on the progress the universities and local growers are making through a partnership on expanding opportunities for local farms.

See Tab 10 on the Board Agenda.

Circle B Farms is currently aggregating local produce from several Aroostook County farms, making dozens of regionally-sourced fruits, vegetables, and products available to public university students, staff, and campus visitors.   Circle B Farms, which holds a Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification and is USDA inspected, is expanding its cooler space by more than 400 percent to accommodate additional volume and make more locally grown produce available to its customers for much of the year.

The certification as the Northern Maine Food Aggregator is helping Circle B Farms increase year-round employment opportunities at its operation and giving area farmers a chance to experiment with crop rotations, explore new vegetable markets, and learn about serving large institutional customers like college campuses and hospitals.

“Our partnership with the universities and Sodexo is a great opportunity for Circle B Farms and our local employees,” said Sam Blackstone, owner of Circle B Farms.  “But is also great for the entire agricultural industry in Northern Maine as farmers work with us to grow their businesses by providing institutional customers like the universities with fresh, locally produced food.”

In 2015 the University of Maine System Board of Trustees unanimously adopted a new policy directive that called for a preference for local, sustainably produced food.  That directive led to the inclusion of a 20% Local Food Commitment by 2020 in the food services contract awarded to Sodexo, Inc. in 2016 for six of the University of Maine System’s seven campuses.  UMaine, which has been a leader in sourcing local food and has aligned with the 20% by 2020 commitment, administers its own dining operations in Orono.

“Increasing understanding and opportunity in our state’s natural resource-based industries is a priority for Maine’s public universities,” said Sam Collins, Chair of the University of Maine System Board of Trustees.  “Being a better customer for our local growers and processors complements the traditional research and programming support our institutions have been providing to generations of farmers, fishermen, and foresters.”

Maine’s public universities have spent more than $1.25 million buying products from local farms and food processors in the first ten months of the 20% by 2020 initiative, sourcing 17.6% of their food purchases with more than 100 local companies from July 2016 to April of 2017. Establishing a Northern Maine Food Aggregator is part of Maine Course at Sodexo, a commitment to make a positive economic impact in Maine through the purchase of local products, produce, services, and responsibly harvested underutilized seafood.

“Working with and buying from Maine’s local farmers and producers is a priority for Sodexo,” said Dan Roy, District Manager for Sodexo.  “Our Maine Course Initiative is helping grow a stronger, more sustainable food economy while giving our customers access to a wider variety of the nutritious, sustainably-produced local food they want.”