Developing Extension Competence in Good Agricultural Practices and Farm Food Safety Planning for Fruit and Vegetable Growers in Kansas and Missouri

Final Report for ENC09-107

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2009: $46,614.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
Jeffrey Callaway
Kansas State University
Co-Coordinators:
Dr. Cary Rivard
Kansas State University
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Project Information

Abstract:
Training Educators in MO and KS in GAPs and Safe Food Production/Handling

The goal of this project was to train a group of extension educators who work with fruit and vegetable producers in order to develop a better-coordinated effort to raise grower knowledge of food safety practices, and GAPs (Good Agricultural Practices) in particular. Due to recent activity surrounding food safety outbreaks, food safety concerns are high among consumers and GAPs certification is required for wholesale markets. The immediate audience for this project is agricultural professional (primarily extension agents/educators, Department of Agriculture, personnel, and other grower-educators) in Kansas and Missouri who producers turn to for information and assistance as they attempt to develop and implement farm food safety plans. A Farm Food Safety Plan is a critical piece of documentation that is required by GAPs certification, and this could be an important barrier for small-acreage and diversified growers. In particular, several extension educators in KS and MO work with Amish and Mennonite growers, and one of the goals of this project is to provide education for our agricultural professionals that can serve the needs of this important and growing group of vegetable producers. Professionals educated under this project will gain competence and confidence and will serve as valuable resources both for serving producers and for education other agricultural professionals.

Project Objectives:
Promoting Strong, Safe Local Food Production

  • Agricultural professionals in Kansas and Missouri knowledgeable about farm food safety planning and certification procedures for GAPs.
  • Agricultural professionals that can assist producers to achieve Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices (GAPs/GHPs) certification in order to meet requirements of wholesale markets.
  • Strengthened, safer local food systems as a result of expanding access to markets and increased adoption of farm food safety practices.
  • Short-term Outcomes: 28 trainees in farm food safety requirements and resources for certification and the capacity to assist producers, including those with limited access to technology
  • Medium term Outcomes: Training of at producers by agricultural professionals that participated in the project workshops/training, and increasing producer awareness of GAPS, even by those not seeking certification as a result of producer interactions with knowledgeable professionals.
  • Long-term Outcomes: stronger, safer local and regional food systems in Kansas, Missouri and the surrounding region.

Introduction:
Improving Food Safety for Local Produce Growers

Food safety risks have been much in the news lately, and have frequently been associated with the large-scale “industrial” food system.  Concerns about the risks have contributed in part to rising demand for locally-grown fruits and vegetables.  However, decentralizing production does not eliminate risks of foodborne illnesses from local farms, though it would tend to reduce the scale of such outbreaks and facilitate tracing back to the source of problems. Increasingly wholesale and institutional buyers require that producers have food safety plans in place in order to limit the potential for outbreaks of foodborne illness and to limit their liability in case of an outbreak. Having such plans verified by third-party audits can reduce risks of outbreaks of food borne illness, reduce producer liability in the event of outbreaks, increase access to markets, and improve the overall safety of the food system.  By training a group of extension educators who work with fruit and vegetable producers, the project will have significant benefits for producers over the long term.

            The immediate audience for this project is agricultural professionals (primarily extension educators, Department of Agriculture personnel, and growers educators with non-profit organizations) in Kansas and Missouri who producers turn to for information and assistance as they attempt to develop and implement farm food safety plans. Knowledge of how to develop and certify farm food safety plans is limited among both agricultural professional and producers in our region, but resources and programs, including USDA AMS GAPs certification and other certification systems exist along with a wealth of educational materials to assist producers to adopt GAPs. Resources and approaches for assisting technology-limited Amish and Old Order Mennonite producers are somewhat less readily available, and will receive attention under this project so that our agricultural professionals can serve the needs of this important and growers group of vegetable producers. Professionals educated under this project will gain competence and confidence and will serve as valuable resources both for serving producers and for education other agricultural professionals in Kansas, Missouri, and the region.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Dr. Fadi Aramouni
  • Marlin Bates
  • Dr. Sanjun Gu
  • Dr. Mary Hendrickson

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

Delivering Knowledge to Agricultural Professionals in GAPs

      In 2009, Lead-PI, Edward Carey, moved to a different position in Ghana. This slowed forward progress of the project in KS although the collaborators in MO were successful at delivering workshops to, and engaging with extension educators. In 2011, the project was transferred to PI Rivard at Kansas State University upon his arrival into the Department of Horticulture as Fruit and Vegetable Extension Specialist.

      During 2010, Tier I knowledge on GAPs was delivered to Extension Educators in Missouri and was coordinated by Co-PIs Hendrickson and Bates. Tier I curriculum includes the basic requirements or GAPs certification in addition to some of the costs and benefits of the program. We also discussed examples of Good Agricultural Practices and made an effort to include why this training was important to agents in order to help them better understand why growers may be interested in GAPs. The food safety workshop held in Missouri in 2010 had significant impacts as we were successful at training 19 agriculture professionals who interact with and train growers. A follow-up survey (15 of 19 participants) was conducted. Project participants were asked to describe how they have used the information learned from the training to educate others and is described in accomplishments.

     In 2011, a similar, two-day Tier I workshop was held in KS and was attended by 25 Horticulture/Agriculture Extension Agents from Kansas in addition to 8 K-State faculty/staff, and 2 educators that work in non-governmental organizations. The workshop was coordinated PI Rivard and speakers included: Jennifer Smith (K-State Extension Educator, Douglas County), Lynn Brandenberger (Extension Specialist, Oklahoma State University), and David Markwardt (Federal GAPs/GHPs program Manager, USDA-AMS). Topics covered include: relevance of GAPS for growers in Kansas, potential sources of foodborne illness on the farm, developing a farm food safety plan, and what to expect during a GAPs farm audit. We also toured the Liberty Fruit Company in Kansas City, KS, which is a large food distributor, fresh-cut and re-packing facility. The tour was led by Chris Ream, Quality Assurance Manager for the company, and he detailed the procedures they take in order to ensure safe food handling in the warehouse/re-packing facility in addition to answering questions on why local producers should become compliant with GAPs. Participants were surveyed for background information and program evaluation and a follow-up survey will be conducted in 2012.

       In response to the need that became apparent as Food Safety regulation became further into focus, we re-budgeted the project during 2012 to leverage our remaining funds to deliver a Tier 2 workshop for Extension Educators in MO and KS that was attended by 22 extension educators from both states, including 3 attendees that were able to join via Adobe Connect. We also archived the presentations on K-State Research and Extension Servers so that agents could go back and view the presentations.

      The goals of the Tier 2 workshop held in April 2013 were to provide advanced technical knowledge including “hands-on” experience with water testing and other practices that can be significant barriers to implementation of GAPs.  Day 1 was led by Diane Ducharme (NC State University Cooperative Extension Statewide GAPs Coordinator). Topics included: delivering information to growers, facilitating GAPs certification (what do I do with all this paperwork?, and dealing with media during outbreak situations. Day two was led by Craig Kahlke (Cornell University Cooperative Extension), and he was able to provide extension educators with electronic (MS word) documents that extension educators could use to develop documents, SOPs, and other paperwork needed for a farm food safety plan.  These documents could be easily adapted by a grower or could be used in an in-depth workshop where growers are brought together and given the templates so that they can make their food safety plan and SOPs during the workshop itself.

Outreach and Publications

There were no publications that resulted from this project as the goal was to utilize already-established resources from the National GAPs program at Cornell and others. There were numerous examples of outreach where the knowledge delivered by the project was conveyed by Extension Educators in Kansas and Missouri to growers and the public. These include grower trainings as described above and in the annual reports in addition to the Extension Master Gardner programs, interactions with community gardens, and school/home gardeners.

Marlin Bates gave a presentation on this project at the 2012 NCR-SARE Farmers Forum, held in conjunction with the National Small Farm Trade Show & Conference, in Columbia, Missouri. A video recording of this presentation is available online through NCR-SARE’s YouTube channel at: https://youtu.be/hDfrPT5_LB4?list=PLQLK9r1ZBhhEGdL7uvTM8P0AzdBnksONr

Outcomes and impacts:
Giving Educators the Resources They Need to Train Growers

Outcomes of the project include training provided to extension professionals, which resulted in grower interaction related to GAPs and food safety practices. The Tier 1 workshops included 50 participants from MO and KS and the Tier 2 workshops included 22 participants from both states.

  • 100% of participants indicated that they were better able to answer questions reaching and estimated 275 clients.
  • 72% indicated that they would incorporate new ideas into current and regular programming and this information was utilized in at least 80 programs as background information related to production, postharvest handling, etc.
  • 20% indicated that they would design special programs surrounding this topic and 17 programs were contributed to by agricultural professionals that received this training.

 

Impacts of the project include medium- and long-term outcomes:

  • A multi-state network of 50 agriculture professionals with increased competency surrounding GAPs certification as it relates to fresh fruit and vegetable growers.
  • At least 22 agriculture professionals with advanced-level knowledge of GAPs and the role that extension educators can take to help growers accomplish the goal of becoming GAPs-certified.
  • At least four agriculture professionals within the two states (KS and MO) that are driving further educational programming related to GAPs and serving as a peer resource within their state.

An integration of food safety competencies into extension programming across the states, which results in a stronger, safer local food system.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:
Milestones Towards Making Impact in the Area of Food Safety

Accomplishments including survey results and the numbers of attendees at each of the workshops are described in the annual reports. The following section describes the accomplishments of the project as they contributed towards reaching the major outcomes of the project.

 

Short-term Outcomes: 28 trainees in farm food safety requirements and resources for certification and the capacity to assist producers, including those with limited access to technology.

  • The Tier 1 food safety workshops held in 2010-11 had significant impacts as we were successful at training 50 agriculture professionals who interact with and train growers.
  • The Tier 2 food safety workshops held in 2013 had significant impact as we were able to train 22 agriculture professional with advanced knowledge of GAPs, including program implementation and dealing with media/public on food safety issues.
  • 100% of the extension professionals surveyed in all three workshops agreed that they were better able to answer questions related to GAPs for growers.

 

Medium term Outcomes: Training of producers by agricultural professionals that participated in the project workshops/training, and increasing producer awareness of GAPS, even by those not seeking certification as a result of producer interactions with knowledgeable professionals.

  • At least 17 trainings were provided by extension educators across KS and MO during the project time period that attended the Tier 1 trainings. In both states, leaders were identified that delivered the majority of the trainings as an indication of their own professional development in this area.
  • Once the leaders among the extension educators emerged, they were identified as statewide resources and were utilized as such by their peers.
  • All 50 agricultural professionals that attended the workshops were able to be familiar enough with GAPs to talk conversationally with growers.
  • All 50 agricultural professionals that attended the workshops were given resources including training materials and peer-to-peer networking/learning in order to help address questions related to GAPs.
  • All 50 agricultural professionals were given access to electronic document templates that growers could implement for the development of their farm food safety plan.

 

Long-term Outcomes: stronger, safer local and regional food systems in Kansas, Missouri and the surrounding region.

  • Statewide networks of agricultural professionals in KS and MO that are better equipped to understand the importance of food safety as it relates to horticultural production, distribution, and consumption.
  • A small cohort of leaders in food safety that emerged in both states, which continue to develop and deliver programming in GAPs to growers.

Experience among university and/or extension faculty that is used to develop curricula for growers that include GAPs and food safety practices.

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

Continuing Beyond the Project Time Period

     This project has already had a ripple effect beyond the project period that will ultimately contribute toward the long-term goal of having a stronger, safer local food production system.  In Missouri four in-depth GAPs workshops were delivered to producers across the state in 2014 by extension professionals at Lincoln University. These workshops were developed and coordinated by leaders within the statewide network and not by the project team of this PDP. This indicates that our work was able to convey the importance of this topic to the agents and provide them with the tools they needed to accomplish their goals effectively. These were 2-day intensive workshop for growers where they were able to sit down with computers and use the electronic documents provided by the project to help growers build their farm food safety plans and SOPs and be able to ask questions in “real-time”. In Kansas, numerous agents in 2013 and 2014 have been engaged for information about GAPs. This project has given them the knowledge they need to answer basic questions and the resources they require to learn more about the process.

     In 2014, a survey of 172 growers was conducted as part of a food hub feasibility study being conducted in the Kansas City Metro region as a collaborative effort among numerous University and non-for-profit organizations. Only 7.2% of the growers were GAP-certified. Although that is a significant increase from the estimated 2% by a similar survey in 2012, it still represents a relatively small number of growers. However, in the 2014 survey 71% of growers responded that they would adopt certification if their market demanded it. Furthermore, 48% of growers indicated that they already had a farm food safety plan in place.  One of the primary objectives of this project was convey to agricultural professionals what a farm food safety plan consisted of and provide some examples and/or templates that they could take to their growers. This indicates that growers have become much more amenable to adopting GAPs and that even though the majority of growers are not GAPs-certified, they are following protocols delivered by the project in order to better prepare themselves for certification or because they believe that maintaining safe food handling practices is an important part of their business.

Future Recommendations

Developing Educational Materials for Small-Acreage Growers

     This project was very successful at giving all of the extension educators across KS and MO basic information about what GAPs is, and why it is important, leading to their ability to talk to growers about this subject. It was also very effective at producing a small subset of educators (3-4) across both states that: 1) have advanced knowledge about GAPs, 2) provide as a resource to their peers statewide, and 3) continue to drive food safety programming with the states. However, there are still significant challenges to adopting current and upcoming food safety regulations, particularly for the small growers (1-5 acres) that are common in the region.

     As curriculum is developed for growers wishing to adopt GAPs and become GAPs-certified, it’s important to recognize the diversity of farms across the U.S. Training materials for commercial vegetable farms with over 30 acres in production in the eastern and southern US can actually lead to increased skepticism among extension educators surrounding GAPs. Several participants in the workshop mentioned that they wished their was more access to food safety information that is directly-related to small growers and how their resource-limited clientele could adopt GAPs-certification. Clearly, there is a need to further develop this area in the future.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.