- Fruits: berries (strawberries)
- Vegetables: beets, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucurbits, onions, peppers
- Additional Plants: herbs
- Crop Production: food product quality/safety
- Education and Training: technical assistance, demonstration, workshop
- Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, partnerships
Demand is surging for local, sustainable produce grown on small farms. This presents both opportunities and new challenges for small farmers in an industry that caters to large agribusinesses and which is subject to new food safety regulations. Farmer development programs and food hubs nationwide help small farmers capitalize on growing markets. However, new FSMA rules will dictate new on-farm food safety requirements governing access to these markets. Food safety capacity has to be addressed promptly to enable small farmers to secure a strong foothold in mainstream markets. Those aiming to sell small-farm produce (e.g. food hubs and cooperatives) must invest resources in ensuring that their suppliers are food safety compliant. Group GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) is a new audit program promoted by USDA/AMS as a way to streamline the compliance process and make it more affordable to farmers who are resource-constrained. Founded in 2001 to help establish organic farm businesses, ALBA already has 5 years’ experience assisting farmers obtain food safety certification. ALBA is also one of eleven organizations nationwide selected to pilot the USDA Group GAP audit system. These experiences position ALBA to lead an educational program to help agriculture professionals throughout the West to develop knowledge and strategies to assist farmers on food safety. The Facilitating Food Safety for Small, Sustainable Farmers (FS3) project, targets 10+ organizations in three states to participate in an experiential learning program that will strengthen their capacities to advise farmers on food safety compliance and counsel them on adoption of GroupGAP.
A new era of food safety is upon us. Nearly five years after passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in January 2011, the final regulatory requirements for the food production and distribution actors will be published in the coming days. This is of great interest and concern to small farmers because the time and cost of complying with such regulations can be disproportionately burdensome for small businesses. Regardless, increased scrutiny on food safety is inevitable. Many wholesalers and retailers of food products have been requiring food safety certification from growers for years. Many small growers have been relegated to direct markets such as small retail, farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) to side step the rising requirements of mainstream food distributors. However, these direct marketing channels channels are constrained by competition and higher marketing costs. On the bright side, markets for local, organic produce grown by small farmers are strong and growing. Consumers are willing to pay a significant premium for organic produce; all the more so if it comes from local family farms. Reflecting this, the number of farmers markets has quintupled in the last 20 years and organic food sales have tripled in the last decade (USDA Economic Research Service, 2013). Small, local, and organic – or more succinctly ‘sustainable’ – agriculture is a well-established niche nearing 5% of overall food sales, which continues to grow at a double digit pace. As an organic farm incubator and food hub for small, beginning, low-income organic farmers, ALBA has marketed over $20 million of small farm produce since the passage of FSMA. This has given us direct experience contending with stricter regulations and the challenges of preparing beginning, immigrant farmers to uphold these requirements. Since 2011, ALBA has assisted 40 farmers annually pass 3rd party food safety audits. In addition, ALBA: • Piloted a Group GAP system in coordination with USDA and Wallace Center, • Just completed a USDA/AMS project to help farmers streamline their food safety and organic certification processes. • Has a WSARE grant titled: Supporting Farmer Training Programs in the Western States through Professional Development and Collaboration which has advised 46 farmer development programs since 2012. A strong record of assisting peer organizations and experience on food safety issues leaves ALBA uniquely qualified to lead a multi-state effort of non-profit, university, government and private sector professionals to address a pressing issue: how to span the gap between the small, sustainable farmer and mainstream markets in an era of heightened food safety regulation.
Project objectives from proposal:
Objectives: The goal of FS3 is to educate agriculture professionals working with small, sustainable farmers to efficiently comply with newly adopted food safety standards in reaching growing markets for sustainably grown produce. Objective 1 – Research: Compile relevant information and document ALBA’s experience with assisting farmers with both GAP and GroupGAP, to help guide partners’ strategy development in addressing farmer food safety. ALBA will draw from its years of experience in escorting farmers through the audit process, and in piloting GroupGAP in collaboration with Wallace Center and USDA/AMS. ALBA will summarize key decision criteria in developing a food safety strategy and detail the time and resources necessary to adopt and implement a GroupGAP system in coordination with growers. Once published, final FSMA requirements on food safety, as they apply to small and medium-sized farmers, will be incorporated into the research. ALBA will also survey private sector buyers, such as large and small retailers and wholesalers to assess their receptivity to GroupGAP when considering buying products. Objective 2 – Education: Strengthen the capacity of professionals in the non-profit, private, cooperative, government and university sectors in 10+ organizations in 3 states on issues relating to the adoption of a Group GAP. Being that most of the farmers served by project partners are certified organic (or farming organically), ALBA will also incorporate instruction on helping streamline practices to address both food safety and organic certification requirements. FS3 participants who market produce are interested in learning about GroupGAP as a means to addressing food safety requirements in order to open up marketing possibilities for the farmers with which they work. University participants (Washington State and University of California Cooperative Extension) will get current on approaches to food safety to better counsel the farmers with which they work. Private sector produce marketers will gain information on GroupGAP as a means to expand sourcing from small growers. Objective 3 – Outreach: Inform over 100 organizations nationwide on GroupGAP through webinars and posting resources on the ALBA website, those of participating organizations and longstanding partners. These include Wallace Center, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, National Incubator Farm Training Initiative, and National Farmers Union. The project would begin as soon as WSARE would allow and last for 18 months. We are assuming a start date of July 1, 2016, but understand that funds may not be available until October 1, 2016. Research activities under Objective 1 would be concentrated in the first half of the project, while outreach activities – under Objective 3 -would take place in the latter half. Education of partners (objective 2) will take place throughout the project period.