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Indoor Farming Partnership Will Increase Local Produce Served on Maine’s College Campuses

May 18, 2021

WESTBROOK, Maine — May 18, 2021 —Sodexo, a global food service provider and one of Maine’s largest employers, today announced that it will source as much as 80-percent of its lettuce products from Vertical Harvest Maine, the State’s newest hydroponic urban farm, and the first vertical greenhouse in the United States. The produce will be served at all fourteen Sodexo partners, including collegiate campuses from Fort Kent to South Portland. Earlier this year, Sodexo pledged to spend at least $1M at local Maine farms and food producers in 2021.

“We are a global company that is committed to spending locally,” says Varun Avasthi, Director of Strategic Partnerships, Sodexo. “One challenge we face when sourcing local food is Maine’s short outdoor growing season. The partnership with Vertical Harvest will be a game-changer for Sodexo’s ability to buy fresh produce twelve months per year,” Avasthi added.

In August 2021, Vertical Harvest Maine (VHM) will break ground on a 70,000 square foot, four-story farm in downtown Westbrook. Developer TDB LLC says that the master plan integrates residential apartments, commercial space and four-stories of parking. The company plans to grow over 1-million pounds per year of local produce, create 50 jobs, and hire Mainers with physical and intellectual disabilities, in coordination with State and local agencies. This year, Fast Company recognized Vertical Harvest in their annual “World Changing Ideas” awards, which honors businesses that are innovating solutions to world problems.

“VHM’s output will displace out-of-state produce and will not compete with local, traditional farms,” says Nona Yehia, Vertical Harvest founder. With the majority of Maine’s produce imported, VHM founders say indoor farming will have a positive impact on Maine’s agricultural output. “VHM is extremely proud to grow local food, and to create meaningful jobs for Maine’s underemployed,” Yehia says. The Westbrook location is the second for Vertical Harvest, the first is in Jackson Hole, WY.

“This partnership illustrates how strategically the Maine business community works together,” says Glenn Cummings, President, University of Southern Maine. “The partnership between Sodexo and VHM enforces our commitment to serving Maine-grown food whenever possible – it is a win-win,” Cummings said.

“This project exemplifies the goals and vision of Maine’s 10-Year Economic Development Strategy,” said Heather Johnson, Commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development.

Sodexo is one of Maine’s largest employers, with 760 employees and a $21M payroll. It serves 13,000 meals daily at colleges and hospitals across Maine, including Central Maine Medical Center and Southern Maine Community College. In 2015, Sodexo founded The Maine Course, a local organization with a mission to increase the company’s local food spend annually.  Sodexo and VHM will prepare for the first harvest, which is planned for the Fall 2022 academic year.

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