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November 22, 2020

Food insecurity in Vermont has reached record levels during the COVID-19 pandemic, with nearly 30% of Vermonters experiencing food insecurity since March, new University of Vermont research finds.

With Thanksgiving approaching, the research is the most comprehensive study of COVID-19’s impacts on food security in the Green Mountain State to date.

Since the pandemic’s onset, the UVM research team finds:

  • Nearly 30% of Vermonters have experienced food insecurity – nearly triple 2018 levels – highlighting the increased hardship experienced across the state.
  • Roughly 1 in 4 respondents are eating fewer servings of fruits and vegetables, suggesting a decrease in diet quality. People are also eating less red meat and seafood, compared to before the pandemic.
  • 33% of respondents used food assistance programs. One in five households (19.1%) participated in 3SquaresVT (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program/SNAP). Nearly 15% used a food pantry.
  • Nearly 40% of households faced job disruptions (25% lost jobs, 35% reduced income, 20% furloughed). Of households with job disruptions, almost 40% also experienced food insecurity.
  • Households with greater odds of food insecurity include: those making less than $50K (6 times greater), those with a job loss or disruption (2.4 times greater), those without a college degree (2.1 times greater), and those with children (2 times greater).
  • Concerns about food costs and access to food assistance are rising. 71% of respondents felt concerned about food becoming more expensive, up from March. Many worried about others learning about their use of aid programs.
  • Vermonters are hunting, gardening, foraging, and preserving more. 42% reported home food procurement efforts since COVID-19, including many for the first time.
  • People are helping each other. Most Vermonters are wearing masks and socially distancing, and more than 40% delivered food to someone in their community.

“This research shows that nearly one-in-three Vermonters have experienced food insecurity since COVID-19, with many using food assistance or eating less to stretch their groceries,” said Meredith Niles of the University of Vermont. “The fact that people have been hit so hard, despite Vermont’s strong performance on COVID-19, shows how devastating the pandemic has been both in Vermont and nationally.”

The study focused on the pandemic’s first five months (March to September). Researchers used surveys to track food insecurity changes in a statewide representative sample (race, ethnicity, income) of over 600 Vermonters. The team released two earlier reports looking at food insecurity at the onset of the outbreak (24% in March/April), and over the following three months (25% from May-July).

“The dual health and economic crisis caused by COVID-19 has exacerbated long-standing inequities and disproportionately impacted low-income families,” said co-author Emily Belarmino of UVM’s Nutrition and Food Sciences Dept. “Even in Vermont, which is regarded nationally as having a resilient food system, communities continue to experience food insecurity.”

This research results from Vermont members of the National Food Access and COVID research Team (NFACT), a collaboration between the University of Vermont, Johns Hopkins University, Arizona State University, and the University of Arizona.

NFACT is national, collaborative effort to examine COVID-19’s impacts on food access, food security and food systems, with collaborators from 17 study sites across 15 states, and led by Meredith Niles, a UVM Assistant Professor of Food Systems and Fellow of the Gund Institute for Environment.

“A big takeaway is that pandemic food insecurity compounds,” said co-author Farryl Bertmann of UVM’s Nutrition and Food Sciences Dept. “These results also highlight the depth of need for additional financial support and food assistance.”

Read the full policy brief.

This research is supported by rapid response funding from UVM’s Office of the Vice President of Research, the Gund Institute for Environment, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the ARS Center for Food Systems Research.

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