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The focus of this report is to identify how much wholesome food is currently being lost on vegetable and berry farms around Vermont. Wholesome food is food that we can eat; when this food is not connected with people – either through being purchased or donated – it becomes “lost”. Based on our estimates, 14.3 million pounds of wholesome vegetables and berries are lost in Vermont each year.
This Salvation Farms’ analysis is the first empirical study of food loss in Vermont. The U.S. Census of Agriculture does not collect data on statewide food loss, nor do farmers keep records of individual farm food loss. We therefore administered a survey – the Vermont Food Loss Survey - to farmers across the state at the beginning of 2016. In total, 58 vegetable and berry farms completed the survey, representing 13 out of the 14 counties in Vermont. It is from these farmers’ responses that we are able to calculate an estimate of food loss, and develop a better understanding of reasons for this loss.
The new estimate of 14.3 million pounds of food loss in Vermont far exceeds the previous estimate of 2 million pounds. Its magnitude highlights the great opportunity to place more Vermont-grown food onto people’s plates. One way to do this is through increasing support of Vermont’s gleaning, food rescue, and surplus management operations. Indeed, in 2015, the major gleaning operations in Vermont – the Vermont Gleaning Collective and the Vermont Foodbank Gleaning Program – gleaned a combined 617,696 pounds of produce. More support, however, would enable these operations to capture even more of the existing food loss around the state while professionalizing services that ease the process of reducing food loss for farms. At the same time, there is the opportunity to explore the use of financial incentives to compensate farmers who donate food that otherwise would be lost. In addition, there exists the need to identify and connect farmers to markets where they can sell more of their produce that would become food loss. Through these different avenues, more of Vermont’s food loss can be redirected to people’s plates.
This report begins by exploring when and why wholesome food is lost, presenting insights gleaned from farmers in the Vermont Food Loss Survey. We then discuss our methodology for calculating the number of pounds lost on Vermont farms each year, and review our findings in detail. After reviewing the limitations of our calculation, we outline opportunities for next steps. We conclude by emphasizing the enormous potential to reduce the amount of food loss in Vermont.