Vermont First, created in 2014, is a first of its kind program committing Sodexo to increase local purchasing across its Vermont institutional markets. Since its inception, our aim has been to grow market opportunity for local producers, stimulate job growth, and ensure the viability of Vermont’s working lands.
We do this through strategic purchasing shifts, collaboration with stakeholders, increasing consumer awareness, and training and enabling our operators to implement Vermont First objectives. Vermont First has been recognized as a best practice in farm to institution work for its transparent, rigorous tracking system and strategic alignment of institutional purchasing needs with local supply. Explore our site to learn more.
Annie Rowell | Vermont First Coordinator
Annie Rowell is in her seventh year working as the Vermont First Coordinator at Sodexo. Before her role with Sodexo, she worked as the Program Manager at the Center for an Agricultural Economy in Hardwick, Vermont. Her work in Hardwick focused on creating new markets for Vermont farms by creating a line of local fresh cut and frozen vegetable products, focusing specifically on Vermont and regional wholesale markets. She graduated from Middlebury College in 2011, majoring in Political Science. She also has a Certificate from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Sustainability Leadership. In addition to her role at Sodexo, Annie is on the Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Board, Farm to Institution New England Network Advisory Council, and is the Secretary for the Vermont Fresh Network Board of Directors. She is also a member of the Craftsbury Town Planning Commission, Secretary of the Craftsbury Village Improvement Society, and is the Stage Manager for the Craftsbury Chamber Players. She has her Vermont Real Estate license with Peter D. Watson Agency, based in northeast Vermont, where she also operates a small cut flower farm, Brassknocker Farm.
The Vermont First Executive Committee is made up of Sodexo regional and national leadership to steer the direction of Vermont First within Sodexo. Our members are:
A resident of Keene, NH, Rich Blanchard is currently the Campus Field Marketing Director for Sodexo on the east coast, with most of his work is concentrated in the New England Region. Rich works with area marketing coordinators as they provide support for on-site dining teams. He has a passion for driving value for our partners through unique branding solutions, passionate customer service, student insights and sustainability. He has played a significant role in the development and consumer communication aspects of Vermont First, Maine Course by Sodexo, Mass Impact, and Rhode to Impact, our industry-leading local food sourcing initiatives.
Rich is a member of Sodexo’s network group SOAR (Sodexo Organization for DisAbilities Resources), EDRF (Sodexo’s Employee Disaster Relief Fund group), and is a repeated recipient of the Spirit of Sodexo Award, and was recently nominated as a mentor in Sodexo’s IMPACT mentorship program. A native of the northeast, Rich has a passion for the outdoors and often spends his days off hiking, biking, and practicing photography.
Charity Chandler is currently the Director of DE&I Experience for Sodexo, previously serving in the Airline Lounges and Universities segments. Having recently made her passion project (DE&I) her day job, she consistently is seeking ways to uplift the employee voice, encourage our teams to bring their authentic selves to work, and improve experiences for our employees, customers and client partners. She earned her Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Wisconsin and lives in Wisconsin with her wife, April, and four fur babies.
Emma Cutler is the Executive chef and General Manager for Sodexo at National Life in Montpelier, VT. Raised on the small island of Anguilla in the BWI she knew from a small girl that her passion for food and cooking would lead her career choices as an adult. After pursuing a career in cooking in the Caribbean she was named the first female executive chef for Sonesta hotels. In 2000 moved to Central Vermont to take on a culinary instructor position at New England Culinary institute. With a twenty-year tenure at the school, she was nominated as instructor of the year in 2011 and became a senior core instructor in 2015, combining her passion for food with teaching was a way to give back to up-and-coming chefs. In 2019 she transitioned to work with Sodexo and become the General Manager of the National Life café in Montpelier Vermont, leading a staff for high-end catering functions and daily management of a cafeteria feeding 1500 people daily.
Chef Sandi Earle just celebrated twenty years with Sodexo in January 2022 and is currently the Executive Chef at Champlain College. She is a longtime foodie and a cookbook author of, My Thirty-Year Love Affair with Food in Vermont: Queen City Brewery Edition. She is working on her second cookbook in the three-cookbook series that will feature 100 recipes from Vermont chefs and culinarians. Sandi has been an advocate of sustainable purchasing and a champion for the Farm to Table movement in Vermont. She joins the Vermont First Executive Committee in helping to connect Vermont farmers and specialty producers with Sodexo universities and colleges.
Maeve McInnis, originally from Cape Neddick, ME and a current resident of Portland, earned a master’s degree in Environmental Policy and Sustainability Management with a specialization in Food & the Environment from The New School in New York where she conducted her thesis at the NYC Mayor’s Office for Food Policy. She sits on the boards of the Portland Food Council and the Maine Grain Alliance. Her passion for social justice, local food systems, and the environment make her the perfect person to lead this effort to serve more local food at Sodexo sites throughout Maine.
Gail Prout has been in sales and tied to foodservice for over 25 years. Her biggest experience came from working at PepsiCo for 18 years where she worked closely with K-12 and National Accounts business. She has worked for Sodexo as a Regional Account Manager for Sodexo covering upstate New York and Vermont since 2018.
She and her husband of 32 years have two children who both live and work in NYC. She is grateful to live and work out of her home office in Lake George, NY, where the view is great! When not working on supply chain issues, Gail is an avid player of platform tennis in the winter and pickleball in the summer.
Nicole Reilly, MS, RD, CD is the Sustainabilty and Campus Partnership Manager with the University of Vermont (UVM) Dining Services. This role allows her to engage in culinary nutrition work while also building and strengthening capacity for a resilient, local food system. She works with the UVM community to promote sustainable food purchasing, reduce waste on campus, and increase access to foods for the diverse student population. Nicole is a Registered Dietitian with over ten years experience in inpatient/outpatient and foodservice settings. Prior to her current role, she was the Campus Dietitian with UVM Dining. She completed her undergraduate degree at UVM, Dietetic Internship at Long Island University: C.W. Post, and her Masters degree at Oklahoma State University. Outside of work, she serves on the Board of Directors for Hunger Free Vermont and can be found experimenting in her kitchen, gardening, or hiking with her husband, daughter and two dogs.
Originally from Bristol, CT and a current resident of Colchester, VT, Brian Roper is the Director of Dining at Saint Michael’s College, a supply management coordinator for Sodexo, and a member of the Emergency Management Team at Saint Michael’s. Brian is passionate about local food and has a general love for feeding people. In his spare time, Brian is an avid outdoorsman who loves fishing on the lake and spending time outside with family and friends whenever possible.
Gary Symolon, CEC brings over 40 years of culinary expertise at Sodexo as Area Executive Chef. Gary is recognized not only for his expertise in recipe and menu planning, but also his work in culinary training and chef development. He currently supports Vermont First in addition to Sodexo’s two initiatives in Massachusetts and Rhode Island – Mass Impact and Rhode to Impact, respectively. Gary lives in New Hampshire.
Don Woodworth is lead counsel for Sodexo North America with respect to supply management operations and group Sodexo’s group purchasing organization. Don completed is undergraduate studies at Northwestern University and obtained his law degree from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, where he was active in its lawyering in Spanish program. Since law school, Don has worked in Spain, Argentina, Mexico and the United States. He is fluent in Spanish. Outside of work, Don loves international travel with his wife and daughter, especially in Latin America. In addition, Don loves the outdoors, whether backcountry skiing, climbing or biking. From a culinary perspective, Don hates recipes, preferring to cook with whatever is in the pantry and is a wine enthusiast. Don lives in Plainfield, Vermont. He is excited to put his background to work for Vermont First, appreciative for all of the bounty that small Vermont food producers create that he’s sure that Sodexo consumers will enjoy as much as he and his family do on a daily basis.
Melissa Zelazny, RD, is the Resident District Manager at the University of Vermont and National Life Group. Melissa is a native Vermonter and a graduate of UVM. Melissa has been at UVM for the past 16 years after spending 18 years in the healthcare division in CT with Sodexo. She resides in Underhill, Vt with her husband, Zee, and dog, Grady. She has 3 adult children and a 7-year-old granddaughter. As a dietitian and landowner in VT, she champions the Vermont First program due to its strategic emphasis on farmers, local food and driving change at an institutional level.
Heather Winther is the Senior Communications and Marketing Manager for Sodexo at the University of Vermont. Her background in food, community and marketing is from non-profit, creative agency and B Corporation work and volunteerism. Her years at the Vermont Retail & Grocers Association / Vermont Specialty Food Association, working on packaging design and digital asset creation for local and global food & beverage brands and her obsession with attending local farmers markets wherever she is traveling to, provide an insightful, curious and thoughtful perspective into our work.
Vermont First Advisory Board is made up of members within the Vermont food system to provide input and guide the direction of Vermont First. Our members are:
Allan Reetz (he/him) is Director of Public and Government Affairs and has been a team member at the Hanover Co-op Food Stores since 1995. Prior to establishing this department at the Co-op in 2016, he served as the cooperative’s director of marketing and communication. Allan grew up near the shores of Canandaigua Lake, part of the ancestral land of the Seneca and Iroquois Nations in Western, New York. After studying communication and psychology in college, he pursued a radio broadcast career in Massachusetts, Arizona, and Vermont. Allan currently serves on several advisory boards (farming, housing, transportation), including Vermont’s Main Street Alliance, New Hampshire Food Alliance, NH Businesses for Social Responsibility, National Organic Coalition, VSJF’s Meat Task Force, and Upper Valley Transportation Management Association.
In his free time, Allan enjoys cycling, snow sports, and has his sights set on back-roads bike touring in northern Scotland.
Brian Cassino is currently the Multi Unit Account Relationship Manager with Black River Produce. He has spent the last 7 years working for local food distributors promoting local products and produce to all forms of customers. He has lived in VT for well over a decade, from Burlington to Stowe to the NEK and now currently in Montpelier. Living in all these locations, as well as working in positions that cover the whole state, has given him a great feel for the opportunities this state can provide. Hailing from Buffalo, NY, he has an Associates Degree in the arts and has worked as a chef, wilderness instructor, maintenance tech, and salesperson. He and his wife met as Wilderness Instructors for Outward Bound and now have three young children.
Christina Erickson is the Director for Service & Sustainability Learning at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont, where she works on integrating sustainability concepts and practices into the institution, operations, academics and culture of the campus. She connects campus and community-based opportunities as service-learning projects in academic courses and manages the student Eco-Rep program, a peer-to-peer sustainability outreach program that focuses on residential student behavior. Christina has a PhD in Natural Resources with a focus in Sustainability Education, from the University of Vermont, a M.S. from the Audubon Expedition Institute at Lesley University’s Ecological Teaching & Learning Program, which focuses on place-based, ecological education and has a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Sociology from St. Lawrence University. Christina lives in the Old North End of Burlington with her husband, daughter, dog, and chickens. Her favorit activities include skiing, canoeing, growing and processing food, and generally playing outside.
Helen Labun is the Special Projects Manager for Food Access at Bi-State Primary Care Association. In that role she is director of the Food Access and Health Care Consortium, which has a goal of better integrating food as part of health care in rural Vermont. Prior to this position she worked as the Director of Vermont Public Policy for Bi-State, representing Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), Free and Referral Clinics, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, and the Area Health Education Centers (AHEC). Before focusing on health care policy, Helen worked in rural economic development, with roles at the Vermont Fresh Network, Vermont Council on Rural Development, and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. She once led local food purchasing campaigns at the University of Vermont while a graduate student there, earning her master's degree in Community Development and Applied Economics.
Helen Rortvedt (she/her) is the Farm to School and Food Access Programs Director at the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT). She works closely with school nutrition and institutional food service professionals, farmers, and other stakeholders across Vermont to support values-based local food purchasing in schools and institutions, and to forge strong connections between the cafeteria, the classroom, and the community. Prior to joining NOFA-VT, she served as the Executive Director at KidsGardening, working to advance the school and youth gardening movement across the country. She was also part of the founding team at Food Connects in Brattleboro, Vermont where she helped to establish and grow farm to school programs in southern Vermont with a strong focus on school nutrition programs and local purchasing. Helen is a graduate of St. Olaf College and holds an M.A. in Sustainable Development from SIT Graduate Institute.
Koi Boynton is the Assistant Director at Salvation Farms, where she works to support the team in sustaining and creating impactful programs that ensure responsible management of farm surplus to build a more resilient food system. Prior to joining Salvation Farms, Koi worked in the communities of Franklin and Grand Isle Counties as the Healthy Roots Coordinator, in service of local food access, education and agriculture development in the region. She started her local food system career as a member of the Agricultural Development Division at the VT Agency of Agriculture, where she supported the development of the VT Farm to School Grant program and the statewide network. Through her many years of food system work, Koi has witnessed that connection to local farms supports the physical and economic health of our communities.
Luke Anderson (they/he) is a first year Masters student in UVM’s Food Systems program. Luke graduated in 2020 from the University of Connecticut (UConn) with degrees in Anthropology and Nutritional Sciences. While at UConn, they had a number of formative opportunities, including representing UConn as a fellow at the United Nations Climate Conference COP24 in Katowice, Poland and studying sustainability and exploring their genealogical roots while on exchange at Lund University in Sweden. Their undergrad culminated in designing and orchestrating an independent thesis project on access to culturally significant foods as a critical component of community food security among the immigrant population of New Haven, CT. After graduating into the beginning of the pandemic, Luke took a gap year doing community-based food systems work as a FoodCorps AmeriCorps service member, tending school gardens and teaching elementary schoolers about gardening, cooking, nutrition, and broader food systems concepts. Further following a childhood love for cooking, gardening, and the outdoors and a newer understanding of the urgency to transform the model of our global food system to one which can help liberate and heal people and the land has led Luke to UVM’s Food Systems masters program. At UVM, they’re excited to explore the roles agroecology, food sovereignty, and the communities those movements are based in have in this transformation while helping institutions support diverse, small-scale producers as Sodexo’s Vermont First Fellow. In their spare time, Luke loves to hike, try new foods, and care for their house plants.
Molly Duff is a Master’s student in the University of Vermont’s Food Systems program. Growing up in Vermont, she developed her interests in food and place by connecting with the community-driven agriculture and commerce throughout the state. After graduating from the University of Vermont with degrees in Anthropology and French, she accepted a position in Benin, West Africa with the Peace Corps. As a volunteer, she focused on teaching English, as well as community development projects. This experience inspired an interest in local food systems on a global scale. As a Sustainability Fellow, Molly assists in sharing the story of UVM dining's local initiatives as well as tracking progress towards those goals.
Peter Allison is the Executive Director of Farm to Institution New England (FINE), a cross-sector six-state organization that mobilizes the power of institutions to transform our food system. FINE serves the growing and dynamic network of farm to institution stakeholders in New England through research, communications, relationship building and incubating innovative projects. Prior to FINE, Peter led a variety of environmental programs in non-profit, government and business settings. Peter lives at the Cobb Hill co-housing and farm community in Hartland, VT. He enjoys time peddling his bike on the backroads of Vermont, skiing the backcountry and muddling in the garden. He has a BA in Philosophy from Drew University, an MA in Urban and Environmental Policy from Tufts University, and is the proud parent of a current UVM student.
Rose Wilson is a leading business planner in the Vermont farm and food sector. Since founding her company, Rose Wilson Consulting, in 2004, she has worked with over 420 farms and food producers, helping with business launch, expansion, and exit; enterprise analysis; and market development. Rose is also an excellent grant writer and has secured more than $7 million in funding for her clients.
Roy Beckford obtained his undergraduate (Veterinary and Public Health) and graduate degrees (Agriculture/Rural Development) from the University of the West Indies, Trinidad, and his PhD (Sustainability Education) at Prescott College, Arizona. He is the Associate Dean and Director of Extension at the University of Vermont. Prior to his Agriculture Development consultation work in the Middle East (Qatar) in 2020, Roy was the Agriculture and Natural Resources Program Leader at the North Carolina Agriculture and Technical State University with responsibility for providing Leadership and Coordination in the development and implementation of statewide agriculture and natural resources programs for NC Cooperative Extension. Roy served as Agriculture/Natural Resources agent and County Extension Director for the University of Florida Extension where he was a faculty member for 14 years, and he has also worked in agricultural and veterinary Extension in Jamaica, and the British Virgin Islands.
UVM Assistant Professor of Specialty Crops Production Terence Bradshaw was raised on a small dairy farm in Orange County, VT where his family still lives. While an undergraduate at UVM he worked with the Apple Team, and was a commercial fruit grower after graduation. He returned to UVM in 2000, and has risen through the research, teaching, and outreach ranks. After attaining his PhD in Plant and Soil Science in 2015, Dr. Bradshaw assumed leadership of the UVM Fruit Program, which now includes work with the growing grape industry. He has also served as Director of the UVM Horticulture Research and Education Center for over 15 years and launched its commercial, research and educational Catamount Farm in 2014. His work on policy and stakeholder support includes chairing the Vermont Pollinator Protection Committee, serving on advisory panels for Specialty Crops Block Grants and other Agency initiatives, and working with the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund on the Farm to Plate initiative.
Trevor Lowell works as the Farm to Institution Program Manager at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets. In this role, he helps expand institutional market opportunities for Vermont farmers and producers and manages the Agency’s farm to school and early childhood grants program. Born in central New Hampshire, he has bounced back and forth between New England, New York City and Montana, working jobs throughout the food system. He now resides in central Vermont with his wife and young son.