COVID-19 Updates: Fall Semester

Local Food at Middlebury

At Middlebury, local food isn't just what we do; it's who we are. 

Middlebury College Dining Services is committed to supporting local food systems. Our goal is to provide the highest quality and best tasting food to our students as well as to create a dining experience that engages with our community and our environment. 

Students working the Middlebury Organic Farm

Currently, 32% of the Dining Service's annual food budget is spent locally at 50 year-long and seasonal vendors, including Middlebury's own Organic Farm. Local raw ingredients, in-season fruits and vegetables, as well as meat and poultry, are all used regularly by Middlebury's dedicated dining staff. Vermont maple syrup, eggs, soy milk, and dairy products such as milk, cheese, yogurt and ice cream can be found in the dining halls daily. 

What is local food?
There is no single definition of local. Individuals, groups and institutions  that support local food systems base their definitions off of their unique values, location and goals. The three most common definitions are: within the boundaries of a given state, within a 100 mile radius, or within a 250 mile radius. Local food can also be defined as food produced using entirely local ingredients, using a given percentage of local ingredients, or using non-local ingredients that are processed or value-added locally.  
View of the college from the Organic Farm

Middlebury College Dining Services defines food as local when it has been grown or processed within a 250 mile radius, based off of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education's (AASHE) Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System. Because it eliminates the geographic advantage that a purely "in-state" definition would give to larger states like California, the 250-mile standard is a practical way to make comparisons between schools across the country. 

Why do we buy foods locally?

Middlebury's support of local food stems from our commitment to:

High-quality, fresh, and nutritious food: The average produce has travelled over 1,000 miles and is 7-14 days old by the time it gets from field to table. Time and transportation can reduce both the freshness and nutrient content of fruits and vegetables. By limiting the distance traveled by our food, the tastier and more nutritious it is for our students.  

Our community: Addison County is an agricultural community with a vibrant local food system. By sourcing food locally, Middlebury puts money directly back into the hands of our neighbors -- and even some of our own employees' and students' families! -- which bolsters the local and regional economy. Investing in local food systems also stalls the urbanization of agricultural lands and supports the proud tradition of the family farm. 


The environment: Less transportation not only means fresher food, but a lower carbon footprint. Minimizing food miles, as well as the energy used in storage, packaging, and distribution, reduces fossil fuel consumption and is consistent with Middlebury's pledge to be Carbon Neutral by 2016. When the farmers that grow our food are no longer distant and anonymous, there is also greater accountability and room for honest conversations about their agricultural practices, such as use of fertilizers, pest management, livestock conditions and crop diversification. 

A more conscious food culture: Supporting local food systems is about stopping to think critically about where our food comes from, how it is grown, and by whom. Students can apply the critical thinking skills of a Middlebury liberal arts education to decisions they make every day. By "eating our ethics" and "voting with our forks," we can make a statement about our values with every bite that we take. 

What are the challenges?

Availability: Although Middlebury is surrounded by a vibrant local food economy, the short 5-7 month growing season and low average temperature (about 45°F) of Vermont and its neighbors limits the seasonal availability of local produce. Greenhouses, flash-freezing and climate-controlled storage technology, however, have the potential to extend the growing season by several months. 

Price and Scale: Middlebury's large demand simply cannot be met by many small-scale, artisan and boutique local producers. Additionally, the local supply of some products is significantly smaller than what is available conventionally, which can drive up prices. It is therefore important to find ways to make the market price of local more competitive, such as through joint purchasing by institutions or by aggregating local produce from multiple farms at a food hub or wholesale distributor. 

Meeting Student Needs: Middlebury Dining serves 7,000 meals a day to a student body with diverse dietary preferences and needs. Unfortunately, not all of these needs can be met with the products available locally.