Denver Food Purchasing Program Sees Early Success

Program requires vendors commit to sustainability, supporting local food suppliers, and more ~

DENVER—Food served by City of Denver entities is becoming more sustainable, with a focus on supporting local businesses and racial equity. Earlier this year, Mayor Michael B. Hancock signed an executive order establishing policy requiring public meal programs and city-contracted food concessions abide by standards put in place by the Good Food Purchasing Program (GFPP).

Now, all city departments and agencies offering public meal programs or concessions must purchase food from vendors that support the six core values of the GFPP.

“The Good Food Purchasing Program is one way we can use the city’s substantial buying power to support values important to our community, like supporting local businesses, environmental sustainability and supporting workers. Agencies that participate in the program spend $27 million on food to support businesses that embrace these values,” said Mayor Michael B. Hancock.

Under the executive order, food programs and concessions with an annual budget of more than $1 million must buy food from vendors that support all six values. Those with annual budgets less than $1 million must contract with vendors that meet at least one of the six values.

Food vendors who want to do business with the city must support all, or part, of these six values:

  • Local economies. Local or regional and small or midsized agricultural and food processing operations get priority.
  • Environmental Sustainability. Food vendors use sustainable production systems that eliminate or reduce synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics, genetic engineering, and other harmful practices.
  • Valued Workforce. Food vendors provide safe and healthy working conditions and fair compensation to all food chain workers and producers, from production to consumption.
  • Animal Welfare. Ranchers provide healthy and humane care for livestock.
  • Nutrition. Food vendors promote health and well-being by offering generous portions of vegetables, fruit, and whole grains; reducing salt, added sugars, fats, and oils; and eliminating artificial additives.
  • Racial Equity. Food vendors invest in racial and ethnic communities that have been historically and/or traditionally marginalized.

Early Successes

The Denver Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS) is one agency that is in full support of the program. It now purchases Colorado-raised beef and local fruits and vegetables. It also reopened its salad bar, both actions supporting two of the six values, local economies, and nutrition. DMNS also meets the environmental sustainability standard by participating in a Meatless Monday campaign, using 100% compostable flatware, dishes, cups, and other service items, and serves no bottled water. DMNS is also working to change to vendors that align with the “valued workforce” standard of the program.

The Denver Sheriff’s Department (DSD) buys beans for its cafeteria meals from a grower in Longmont, supporting the local economies value and saving taxpayer dollars. The department also buys seafood from sources that maintain healthy marine life and ecosystems, which supports the GFPP value of environmental sustainability. 

Denver Public Schools (DPS) exceeds the nutrition requirement with its school meal program and a healthy vending machine policy that replaces highly processed food with unprocessed, more natural snacks. It spends $1.6 million with local businesses.

Denver’s Office of Children’s Affairs (OCA) has also now introduced plant-based burgers into its children’s meal programs.

“The early successes of the program show the power of the purse. Cities can drive large-scale market shifts to create benefits across their regions, building healthier food systems for people, animals, and the planet. It’s heartening to know we’re doing good all the way around, showing that doing the right thing can also be financially sustainable,” said Bob McDonald, executive director of the Denver Department of Public Health & Environment (DDPHE) and Denver’s public health administrator.

The GFPP requires accountability from the programs taking part. City departments or agencies must report to DDPHE annually itemized records of purchased food, the businesses it purchases food from and the suppliers where that food comes from, and the total dollars spent on each food product, among other requirements.

The city also encourages its departments and agencies to use food vendors who provide living wages to all their employees, who operate and live in low-income communities, and employ non-toxic, environmentally sustainable food-production methods, among other standards.

To learn more about the GFPP or to take part in the program, visit the Good Food Purchasing Program website.

Leave a Reply