In the winter of 2002, the Burlington Legacy Project’s steering committee held a town meeting to gauge the public’s sustainability priorities. Citizens who attended voiced strong support for more local, fresh and healthy foods at public schools and wanted to be able to access more local food in their communities. They looked to Burlington’s food system – and school food system in particular – as one area for improvement where it is possible to make connections between environmental, social and economic goals.
After this meeting, a group of volunteers and nonprofit leaders collaborated with Shelburne Farms to secure a USDA Community Food Project grant, called “Growing Farms, Growing Minds,” that sought to encourage healthier food choices, build capacity within the Burlington community to meet healthy food needs, engage the community and diverse groups in these efforts and partner with the Burlington School District Food Service to improve school meals.
In 2003, the Burlington Food Council was formed as a public group designed to provide the connective tissue between disparate nonprofit organizations, volunteers and government agencies working toward these broad, common goals:
- To build food knowledge and experience
- To build food appreciation and access
- To build local food systems
The Council’s first task was to complete a Community Food Assessment, which became its guiding document. An active group with substantial community involvement and support, members of the Council reported increased knowledge of local food systems, and many became empowered to make real differences in their community. They helped create a food action plan for the Burlington School District, held public meetings to report out the findings of the food assessment and were instrumental in the development of school food committees, school gardens and wellness plans. They also provided a home for the establishment of the Burlington School Food Project, now a model Farm2School program.
In 2005 and 2006, the Burlington Food Council started to engage local businesses and nurture new ideas, such as Junior Iron Chef, a partnership with City Market/Onion River Cooperative and support for Fletcher Allen Health Care’s local and nutritious food initiatives.
In 2008, the Burlington School Food Project formally spun off from the Council, allowing members to refocus on networking and collaboration and incubate new projects that extend beyond the school day. The Council continues to assist its members in developing new projects and leverages significant volunteer support.