At the start of this year, Sodexo’s Good Eating Company (GEC) announced that it would commit 15% of its food budget to sourcing from farms that use regenerative agriculture practices by 2025.
To that end, GEC, a B&I-centered dining platform that Sodexo acquired in 2017 and brought to the U.S. last year, has been working on a pilot in Northern California to connect with farms like these.
Not only do regenerative agriculture practices help combat climate change, but they also have a variety of other pros, says Renee McKeon, vice president, sustainability & CSR, corporate services.
“There are myriad other benefits from these practices, including equity and local economic development, biodiversity, resilient regional supply chains and biodiversity and, according to new research, potentially improved nutrient density,” she says.
Along with helping the company reach its 2025 goal, GEC hopes the pilot will also assist minority farmers with making the transition to implementing regenerative practices by providing technical assistance and creating a market for their products.
Finding the farms
GEC started looking into regenerative farming practices—which include compost application, crop diversity and cover cropping—in 2018. That year, it began working with local nonprofit Kitchen Table Advisors (KTA), which provides technical assistance to farmers. GEC helped KTA with its annual gala and also worked with the nonprofit to purchase surplus product from farms in need.
In 2020, both GEC and KTA were participants in a Google-funded regenerative agriculture accelerator called REGEN1, which brought together different stakeholders from the food industry, such as farmers, scientists, retailers and nonprofits, with the objective of increasing regenerative agriculture in Northern California.
Shortly after the accelerator, the team at GEC asked KTA for help with finding minority-owned farms that use regenerative farming practices.
KTA ended up connecting them with True Harvest Farms, an aggregator created by Rogelio Ponce Jr., who runs a family farm in Watsonville, Calif. True Harvest sources product from Ponce’s own farm as well as six other owner-operated, diverse-owned farms in the area.
“Some of these farms were already certified organic and verified as being on the journey to implementing regenerative practices via a third-party assessment,” says McKeon.
Bringing the product to cafes
Once True Harvest was identified, GEC worked with one of its regional distributors, Vesta, to start the onboarding process.
Sodexo cafes began purchasing product from True Harvest on a weekly basis beginning in August 2021. Each week, chefs receive a list from Vesta of what the farms have available.
“They created separate product codes that specifically demarcated product from True Harvest as regenerative so that GEC could track purchases separately from other product the cafes ordered from Vesta,” says McKeon.
The chefs have also been educated on regenerative farming practices and GEC’s commitment to it.
Currently, LinkedIn is receiving product as part of the pilot and there are plans to include additional clients as well.
Planning for the future
Plans for the pilot’s future include continuing to source from True Harvest while expanding GEC’s network to include farms located throughout California.
“GEC will identify additional producers that meet its qualifications and are interested in converting to regenerative practices but may lack the secure market or startup funding to do so and work with partners to develop these suppliers,” says McKeon. “We envision doing this in partnership with other aligned regional distributors and nonprofit technical assistance providers to farms.”
GEC is also evaluating how to expand the program outside California, which will depend on client interest, the availability of verified regenerative products and other factors.
“We will replicate this model, if successful, around the country in pursuit of our 15% by 2025 commitment,” says McKeon.