Building Capacity via Peer-to-Peer Food Safety Education with Hmong-American Fruit and Vegetable Farmers
This goal of this project is to work in collaboration with Hmong farmers in the North Central region to pilot an innovative train-the-trainer model of engagement to build capacity around on-farm food safety or GAPs. Hmong leader farmers receive in-depth education around farm food safety principals, implement these evidence-based food safety practices on their farm and then share these ideas with peers. As a result, farmers will have more confidence and understanding about farm food safety concepts, will have practice acting as leaders in their community. and will access new markets and improved farm profitability as they adopt GAPs principals.
A Hmong farmer advisory board of 3 farmers will lead activities, planning, and deliverables of this project. Farmers will receive stipends to attend field days and educational opportunities throughout the project, building capacity and leadership.
A written food safety curriculum and food safety pocket guides or other written materials will be developed as sustainable tools that the Hmong farmers can use in future training efforts and other regions can use to replicate the work.
In year 1, farmers will receive in-depth assistance and help with farm food safety for their farm and will begin to develop a farm food safety plan. In year 2, Hmong farmers will be responsible for leading workshops, field days and education to their peer and community, which is a critical component of the sustainability of this project. Building strong peer-to-peer networks is an effective and culturally-appropriate method of transfer of information.
- Project team (UMN and FLAG) meet with Hmong farmer leaders to develop project goals and outcomes
- Project team hosts 3 food safety workshops with 3 Hmong farm leader families focusing on specific food safety topics, to be determined in conjunction with farmers, to be held in classroom and on farm.
- Project team works closely with Hmong farmer leaders to answer their GAPs questions and help them develop their own farm GAPs food safety plan
- Hmong farmer leader attend field days, conferences and workshops across Minnesota, enhancing farming skills, knowledge and leadership capacity of farmer leaders.
- Project team develops train-the-trainer curriculum in conjunction with Hmong farmer leaders that is tailored to the needs of Hmong farming community. This will include hand-outs, presentations, demonstrations and other methods of sharing information. Information will be compiled and created with input from Hmong farmers.
- Hmong leader farmers use the curriculum developed in year one to provide food safety information and assistance to at least 50 other immigrant farmers via at least 2 on-farm field days, farm visits, on-farm workshops and other culturally appropriate methods as determined by the leaders. Hmong farmers lead recruitment, content development and workshop design ideas with guidance and input as needed from project team.
- Project team and Hmong farmers work together to create posters, pocket guides or other written materials to share food safety information, to be given to at least 100 Hmong and other immigrant farmer via conferences and educational activities.
- Presentation at Immigrant and Minority Farmers conference by project team and Hmong leader farmers
- Project team shares training curriculum and train the trainer best practices with Extension and other agricultural non-profits in the region and nationally via conferences, website, press release and partners
The planning group of lead Hmong farmers, staff from Hmong American Partnership and the project PI from University of Minnesota Extension met throughout 2016 to plan project outcomes and ensure continued momentum.
June 2016 On-Farm Workshop #1: First educational food safety training with 8 Hmong farmers in attendance on the farm of a Hmong farmer leader. Farmers were given 3-ring binders with a food safety plan template and supporting materials. Project staff and the farmer leader explained the major parts of the food safety plan and simplified log sheets. Most were not keeping records currently. Tour of farm where Hmong leader described how he implements the practices on the farm and answered questions.
Fall 2016 new project partner: An important new connection within this project is The Good Acre food hub in Falcon Heights, MN. The Good Acre buys from Hmong farmers for its CSA including those in this project, and would like to buy more for a wholesale food service account. However, the wholesale account requires a food safety plan and potentially a GAP third-party food safety audit, which the farmers do not currently have. Therefore The Good Acre will help to reiterate the importance of good food safety practices on the farm, and may even help to shepard 1 or 2 of the Hmong farmers through a GAP audit in 2017. It will be very helpful to have a buyer saying that food safety is important and will help the goals of this project and elevate food safety in the minds of the participants.
November 2016 Workshop #2 at HAP in St. Paul: 5 Hmong farmers in attendance. HAP staff purchased all materials for a portable handwash station and washing bins and we demonstrated how to build it. Project staff and farmer leaders led discussions and hands-on activities about basic food safety principals – handwashing, washing/sanitizing bins, water cleanliness and testing, and recordkeeping. All attendees received measuring spoons for making sanitizer solution and tester strips to measure concentration of sanitizer when they make it at home for sanitizing their food contact surfaces, bins, tools etc.
Field days: Farmers attended 5 field days throughout the Minnesota and Wisconsin and were paid a mileage stipend for each one. They said that attending the field days were extremely useful for their operation. Some of the topics included using a plastic mulch layer, small fruits for the farm, natural pest control and recordkeeping for a small farm.
Food safety plan development for sales to Minneapolis Public Schools: One of the lead farmers began selling to Minneapolis Public Schools, and the project team helped him develop his food safety plan to their specifications.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
New markets: One farmer won a contract with Minneapolis public schools, and was able to deliver a large quantity of produce in fewer deliveries, which was a goal of his farm and his family. The family is seeking new markets beyond the farmers market, like large K-12 districts, but these wholesale markets often require food safety plans or even a food safety audit. Our project team worked closely with him to help him develop his food safety plan, logsheets, and SOPs to describe his cleaning and sanitation. He may seek a GAP audit on product this summer, further opening markets beyond the school district.
Food safety trainings: The farmers that attended the training workshops in 2016 were introduced to the basics of food safety, and were very interested in this sort of in-depth assistance (workshops were all translated into Hmong). Some of the concepts were brand new, such as most of the logsheets and records. Some of the practices were familiar, like the importance of handwashing. But no farm currently has a food safety plan or had attended a GAPs workshop previously, so in many ways writing and implementing a food safety plan for their farm will be a completely new challenge.
Capacity building among core group of dedicated farmers who are looking to sell wholesale: It has become clear that identifying the farmers who are motivated to learn about GAPs is the key to successfully implementing a peer to peer project. There are likely about 4-5 Hmong farms that really want to really scale up and sell wholesale that we can identify, so finding and building capacity among these farms is critical. They are very interested in finding new markets beyond farmers markets. Many who sell at farmers markets care about food safety in general, but not enough to develop a food safety plan or even attend a workshop. The peer mentors will hopefully be able to make inroads with their peer farmers, encouraging them to attend a food safety workshop/field day led by the mentors.
Importance of partners: The Good Acre will continue to be a very important partner, and they will be present at the workshops. They will act as the “carrot” for farmers, representing a large buyer who will purchase large amounts of product at a fair price, but want the farmers to have a food safety plan. They have even more markets for farmers who pass a GAP audit, and therefore a few farmers will likely go down this path. HAP will continue to be the main entry point and liaison for farmers, calling them to remind them of workshops, answering questions, hosting the meetings etc. HAP staff is also receiving this training, and will now be able to educate farmers about food safety.
Field days for farmers were critical for capacity building: The field days in 2016 were some of the most helpful aspects for the farmers. They reported being very interested in the topics and learning very well from the hands-on structure. The field days were in English, but the farmers all speak English well enough to understand the basic concepts. Only 2 farmers took advantage of them in 2016, so hopefully now that they have shared how helpful they were, more will attend them.
More training workshops in 2017: The farmer mentors have asked for more help, and will be trained at 2 additional workshops in spring 2017. Then, they will host food safety field days at their farms in the summer of 2017. They will attend up to 3 field days at farms across the region. They will then help create the written food safety materials and curriculum, and help share it with other farmers.