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USDA Extends Free Meal Program

The Abbey Group is thrilled to announce that the USDA recently released the extension of their free meal program for the remainder of 2020. This allows us to serve completely free and nutritious meals to all children, regardless of their situation, until the end of the year. 

We know that many families were and continue to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. As we enter the 2020-2021 school year, The Abbey Group recognizes that our children are learning in completely new environments. With the stress of adapting to long-term remote learning, hybrid model teaching, and various other changes to our normal routine, this move by the USDA allows us to help remove one key stressor: feeding our children. Whether that be in the cafeteria, in the classroom, or at home, The Abbey Group deeply values the importance of a nutritious and filling meal. Quality nutrition has the power to help kids stay focused and do their best work under both ordinary and extraordinary circumstances.

The program is completely free to all children under the age of 18 with no application required. Parents and guardians can also choose to pick up meals for their children. Families are encouraged to complete free or reduced meal cost applications for future meal service beginning in 2021.

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USDA Farmers to Families Contract Extended!

When The Abbey Group was chosen by the USDA to be a Farmers to Families Food Box Program distributor at the beginning of May, it was hard to fully imagine the impact that this program could have on our friends and neighbors in need. Since starting distribution over five weeks ago, we have served hundreds of thousands of boxes of food to thousands of local families. This has amounted to approximately 2.4 million pounds of perishable food. Given the initial program end date of June 30th, The Abbey Group can proudly say that our contract with the USDA has been extended to the end of August. 


The USDA has contracted with the Abbey Group to distribute over 2,700,000 pounds of food (266,000 boxes) to Vermont families. In collaboration with the state of Vermont and the Vermont Foodbank, food boxes of mixed cheese and butter, Brakebush chicken, fresh produce, and milk from HPHood Dairy, Monument Farms Dairy, Thomas Dairy and Kingdom Creamery will continue to be distributed between July 1 through August 31st.


In this next round of distribution, 440,000 pounds of VT produce is planned to be handed out. Reinhart Food Service, Black River Produce, Green Mountain Farm to School, Healthy Roots Collaborative, the Center for Agricultural Economy and Deep Root Organics are valued partners in this project.


Additional Information

For more information regarding the Farmers to Families Food Box Program visit the USDA’s website.

Founded in 1982, The Abbey Group is a family-owned food service management company. We specialize in handcrafted foods that use local ingredients. For more information visit The Abbey Group website.

For upcoming program pick-up locations and information, follow The Abbey Group on Facebook and Twitter.

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Abbey Group Awarded Farmers to Families Food Box Program Contract

The Abbey Group is proud to announce that on May 8th, 2020, we were selected to participate in the federal Farmers to Families Food Box Program. We are one of two contractors for the state of Vermont to earn this recognition. In April of 2020, the USDA announced the unprecedented program with the purpose of supplying locally sourced food to families in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Vermont Foodbank, the Vermont National Guard, the Healthy Roots Collaborative, Green Mountain Farm to School and various local dairy processors worked collaboratively with The Abbey Group to craft the bid.

In a recent University of Vermont study, it was estimated that food insecurity rose 33% due to the current pandemic. The rapidly changing employment status of Vermont’s residents is largely to blame for this increase. The Farmers to Families Food Box Program aims to ensure food security for families in need. The program is in effect for the duration of May and June, with the possibility of extension. The program functions by connecting local farmers distributors. These farmers and distributors previously would have been working with restaurants and bulk purchasers. Distributors then package and supply family-sized food boxes to local contractors, such as The Abbey Group. Local contractors then distribute those boxes to those in need. Before the announcement of this program, The Abbey Group has been working tirelessly to provide wholesome meals to kids under 18, through their local schools since their closure in March.


Our Commitment to Local

The Abbey Group is no stranger to connecting local farmers to local families. As a food service group whose mission is to deliver the highest quality meals, utilize agricultural products from local growers, promote healthy choices and demonstrate a high level of customer service, The Abbey Group has the homegrown infrastructure and knowledge to help the Farmers to Families Food Box Program serve for our fellow Vermonters during this time of uncertainty.

For years, The Abbey Group has worked with a variety of local food producers both directly and indirectly. We do our best to prioritize direct relationships with these farms and producers whenever possible. Partnerships are solidified after satisfactory site inspections by our experienced personnel. The Farmers to Families Food Box Program has created an opportunity to call on our relationships with local producers to expand our reach. The Abbey Group is excited to step up and support our neighbors with the aid provided by the program. Abbey Thomas of Thomas Dairy noted that “participating in these events will really help in using excess milk supply that we are experiencing due to the pandemic’s burden on many of our customers. The effort, true to our little state, comes full circle; Vermonters helping Vermonters.”


Our first pick-up event will take place Friday, May 15th, 2020 from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM at the Edward F. Knapp State Airport.


Additional InformationEdward F. Knapp Farmers to Families Poster 2020

For more information regarding the Farmers to Families Food Box Program visit the USDA’s website.

Founded in 1982, The Abbey Group is a family-owned food service management company. We specialize in handcrafted foods that use local ingredients. For more information visit The Abbey Group website.

For upcoming program pick-up locations and information, follow The Abbey Group’s Farmers to Families Twitter page.

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Vermont Farm to School Conference Gathers 250 Local and National Leaders to Listen, Learn, and Develop Plans to Grow Farm to School Throughout Vermont

Over 250 local and national farm to school leaders gathered together this week at the 2016 Vermont Farm to School Conference to learn about the positive impacts of Farm to School programming, sample local cuisine, and help shape the future of farm to school in Vermont.  Held over the course of two days at Lake Morey Resort in Fairlee, Vermont, the conference featured talks by US Senator Patrick Leahy, USDA Farm to School and Community Food Systems Director Deborah Kane, and Executive Director of Child Nutrition of Detroit Public Schools Betti Wiggins.


Conference attendees had opportunities to attend over 25 workshops focused on a variety of topics including farm to school curriculum design and funding strategies, sharing stories of impact, school garden program planning, and engaging teens through innovative food systems programs.  A number of state government leaders and representatives were also in attendance, including Vermont Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Jolinda LaClair, Commissioner of Health Harry Chen, MD, Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe, and Windsor County Senator Dick McCormack.


“Vermont has long been a leader of farm to school efforts, and this conference is a clear indicator of what has seeded that leadership,” said USDA Farm to School Director Deborah Kane during her keynote speech yesterday.  “I am so inspired by Vermont’s vast farm to school network and its strong, meaningful, and effective partnerships. Working together helps make farm to school work!”


The first state in the nation to implement a Farm to School Grant Program, Vermont has long been a national leader in the Farm to School movement. Since 2007 the Vermont Farm to School Grant Program, administered by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM), has invested over $1.5 million in Farm to School Programs in over 30% of Vermont’s schools, impacting over 30,000 students.


The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets recently announced more than $130,000 in funding available to Vermont schools in 2017. Grants are available for planning and development of new Farm to School (FTS) Programs, expanding existing FTS programs, or (new for 2017) transitioning to a universal meals program, which enables schools to offer all students fresh, healthy meals at no charge.


“I am extremely proud of the innovation and leadership provided by Vermont’s Farm to School Network over the last 10 years, and I’m pleased to see so many people here today working together to strengthen and grow the farm to school movement throughout our state,” said Vermont Ag Deputy Secretary Jolinda LaClair.  “Our Farm to School programs are essential to building a culture of ‘Ag Literacy’ in our schools and communities and to preparing our students to make a lifetime of healthy choices.”


Hosted by the Agency of Ag and Vermont FEED, in partnership with the Vermont Farm to School Network, the 2016 Farm to School Conference offered workshops and opportunities for both beginners and experts dedicated to food, farm, and nutrition education. The goals of the conference included:

  • Strengthening the connections between the Classroom, Cafeteria, and Community and share best practices from across the state
  • Strengthening the Vermont Farm to School Network and connect people so they envision themselves as part of the FTS Movement
  • Widening the audience aligned with Vermont’s Farm to School goals and strategies


Betty Wiggins, the Executive Director of Child Nutrition of Detroit Public Schools, spoke at the conference dinner on Wednesday night, which featured bean and vegetable cassoulet made with locally grown beans from Vermont Bean Crafters.  Responsible for school meals in 137 schools in Detroit, Betty credits the Vermont Farm to School model for much of the success of her farm to school programs.


“I need to thank Vermont and all of you for providing me with the inspiration to start farm to school programs in my own school system in Detroit,” said Wiggins.  “Almost a decade ago, I visited Vermont to learn about farm to school, and I stole your model.  At this point in my talk, I just wanted to remind you all that imitation is the highest form of flattery.”


“Our goal at the Vermont Department of Health is to help ensure the ‘healthy choice’ is also the easy choice and the attractive choice for kids,” said Health Commissioner Harry Chen, MD. “Farm to School does just that by making local, healthy foods available to our children in a way that is appealing to them.”


The conference attracted a wide range of FTS members and leaders, including farmers, food processors & distributors, child nutrition professionals, teachers, school administrators, government officials, policy makers, advocates, and non-profit partners.  In welcoming remarks, VAAFM Food Systems Chief Abbey Willard challenged all conference attendees to “learn something new, share something inspirational, and commit to replicating something successful in your community.”


Conference attendees heeded this opportunity and spent two inspirational days sharing stories and communicating the educational, nutritional, and economic impacts of Farm to School in their communities.


For more information about Vermont Farm to School visit  or contact Ali Zipparo at or call (802) 505-1822.




About the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets: VAAFM facilitates, supports and encourages the growth and viability of agriculture in Vermont while protecting the working landscape, human health, animal health, plant health, consumers and the environment.  www.Agriculture.Vermont.Gov


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