Chipotle increases local sourcing, issuing coronavirus scholarships, grants

Fast-food chain addresses COVID-19 farming challenges with its 2019 Sustainability Report

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Chipotle Mexican Grill is continuing its support for sustainable farmers with its Chipotle Local Grower Support Initiative, which provides financial support to small- and medium-sized growers of fresh produce for personnel, technology, training and testing.

In 2019, Chipotle increased its total purchase of locally grown produce by 20 percent – upping 29 million pounds of its fresh product to 35.5 million, according to the company’s newly released 2019 Sustainability Report. By purchasing local, Chipotle states it is strengthening local economies while reducing the total distance that food needs to travel before it reaches a restaurant.

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"The work we've accomplished in 2019 is exciting and sets the tone for our continued investment, growth and support for the farming community," said Brian Niccol, Chipotle’s chairman and CEO, in a company statement. "We will leverage our economic influence to provide the education, training and tools needed to cultivate the future of farming."

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This news comes at a time when the U.S. economy is feeling the strain of the coronavirus pandemic. Some farmers have had to resort to dumping crops and dairy that cannot be sold to restaurants, hotels and schools amid shelter-in-place mandates. Crop prices are expected to drop by 10 percent this year while livestock prices are expected to drop by 12 percent, according to an April report from the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service found that 56 percent of farms lost money last year and expects the financial loss in 2020 to significantly increase in light of new food scarcity supply issues that stem from the pandemic.

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These trying conditions have led Chipotle to continue its support for the Chipotle Local Growers Program in addition to offering education, scholarships, grants and three-year contracts to young farmers.

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Fifty recipients will be informed they are receiving a $5,000 grant from the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation and National Younge Farmers Coalition this Friday so they can start or grow their business.

"Young farmers and ranchers are providing food and essential services for their communities and are facing greater challenges than ever before," said Sophie Ackoff, a co-executive director of the National Young Farmers Coalition. "We are thrilled to partner with Chipotle to make an investment in this next generation and to provide critical funding to help them overcome the challenges they face launching and building their new farm businesses."

Chipotle and its Chipotle Cultivate Foundation have contributed over $500,000 to date to support the next generation of farmers, according to the company’s press release.

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"When you eat Chipotle, you are supporting a business with integrity that is actively fighting to Cultivate a Better World," said Caitlin Leibert, the head of sustainability at Chipotle. "As a very public and engaged brand, we have a great responsibility to ensure action and accountability in the areas of sustainability and transparency, and I am so proud of our success in 2019 and inspired for the future ahead."