- Vegetables: cucurbits, greens (leafy), greens (lettuces), tomatoes
- Crop Production: food product quality/safety, irrigation
- Education and Training: technical assistance
- Farm Business Management: farm-to-institution, marketing management, risk management
- Sustainable Communities: food hubs, local and regional food systems, social capital, urban agriculture
Crop quality and food safety are important concerns for consumers and produce buyers as small farmers increasingly sell specialty crops to wholesale outlets, institutional markets, food service operations, food hubs, and restaurants. Producers need to understand both crop quality standards and food safety requirements and liability coverage to address more stringent federal and state regulations and to meet institutional purchasing standards. New Entry operates the World PEAS Food Hub which aggregates and distributes produce and fruit sourced from over 30 New Entry farmer graduates to multiple market outlets (CSA, university dining services, elder service agencies, and other low-income wholesale partnerships). Each year, there are significant crop quality concerns that often limit which items can be included in our offering to consumers. This initiative will increase awareness and knowledge of smaller-scale farmers about crop quality, food safety and liability insurance requirements of institutional food service and similar wholesale buyers, and promote practical strategies to strengthen on farm production and food safety practices.
We will develop a practical training curriculum on variety selection, key production practices around crop health, assessing harvest readiness, post-harvest handling, and affordable strategies to improve food safety practices of specialty crops. We will provide on-farm coaching, and connect producers to cost-share resources for on-farm improvements and affordable liability insurance coverage. Resources developed will be distributed to 80+ producers in our beginning farmer programs, at statewide meetings (NOFA, NEVBGA), at EMass CRAFT workshops, via our statewide Beginning Farmer Network, and posted on New Entry’s website and via newsletters to reach 1000+ additional Massachusetts farmers.
Project objectives from proposal:
This crop quality and technical assistance project aims to work with small-scale and beginning farmers producing specialty crops who are direct-marketing and looking to expand to institutional markets that require greater levels of crop quality, consistency, food safety compliance and insurance coverage. This crop quality training project will provide training and the needed “on-the-ground” technical assistance and personalized coaching to help producers understand, translate, and apply crop production, harvest, post-harvest, and food safety education into practical application on their farms.
New Entry will use a combination of training and technical assistance (T&TA) strategies focusing specifically on the following core objectives:
- Assure the steadiness and reliability of produce supply throughout the season via selection of appropriate varieties, appropriate crop timing, and increasing succession plantings;
- Improve crop quality through appropriate production techniques, particularly for organic production, focusing on soil health and nutrition, crop rotation, managing weed, pest, and disease cycles, and the use of fallow and cover crops;
- Assure overall quality and freshness through to the point of final sale or distribution via appropriate knowledge of harvest timing and post-harvest handling, cooling and storage practices;
- Assure safe food handling by designing training materials and assisting producers to incorporate required practices and record keeping strategies into their daily work flow on the farm.
Project Activities will include:
- A) Crop quality training project outreach: New Entry will offer crop quality training and technical assistance (T&TA) opportunity to 80+ farmers. Our target audience will be current and graduated New Entry farmers supplying the World PEAS Food Hub; though the assistance will be available to other beginning farmers. Producers will be expected to attend workshops, keep production and sales records for crops they grow, and be available to receive virtual and in-person field based technical assistance.
- B) Deliver Crop Production Training Workshops: Hands-on Trainings: We will develop and deliver 8 field-based training workshops that will cover key elements in the seed-to-market cycle to address the challenges described above. Content for the workshops will include:
Production-based Workshops (a):
- Seed varieties and sources; direct seeding versus transplants;
- Season extension strategies and options; Greenhouse/Hoophouse vs. field-based production;
- Field production tips to assure high quality output – planting methods, watering, pest and weed management, soil and crop fertility, and crop-specific information.
Harvest and Post-Harvest Handling Workshops (b):
- Estimating yields to fulfill market orders
- Harvest timing and crop readiness, labor-saving harvest techniques, post-harvest cooling strategies (hydrocooling vs air cooling), cleaning, trimming and packaging specifications;
- Food Safety training including GAPs, FSMA regulations, and other practical strategies to address safe food handling.
General Wholesale Readiness Workshops (c):
- Buyers requirements for compliance: insurance coverage, packaging standards, food safety training and building relationships with institutional buyers
Workshops will be open to beginning farmers and will be held either in our Lowell office or at our incubator farms in Dracut/Newburyport. We expect an average of 15-20 farmers per session to attend. New Entry publicizes workshops via email reaching over 4,500 people, and via its website and other partner listservs. The MA Beginning Farmer Network will also publicize these workshops.
Statewide workshops: We will offer two 1.5 hour workshops for statewide audiences – one at NOFA’s annual winter conference (50 producers), and another at Eastern Mass CRAFT meetings (40 producers). UMass Extension and Mass Farm to School Project will participate and support the training workshops. We may record and post webinars on these topics to reach wider audiences who cannot attend in person training sessions.
- C) Provide Technical assistance (TA) to Specialty Crop Producer. TA will be an integral aspect of the crop quality project. Farmers will receive combinations of email, phone, and hands-on, farm-based help to improve their production and post-harvest handling of these crops. New Entry staff and partners will provide up to 20 producers with up to 5 hours of TA under this project to address individual production challenges to better prepare them for markets. Hands-on expertise and TA will cover all of the topics mentioned above.
- D) Develop a Comprehensive Resource Guide on Crop Quality and link to other online resources. We will build upon existing resource guides to create visual standards that address common problems to be avoided from the perspective of a produce buyer. Throughout the growing season, we will photo document poor crop quality and ideal crop conditions to illustrate crop specific expectations. This will create a comprehensive guide to visual standards and expectations for wholesale crops. The Guide and other educational materials prepared for workshops and TA will be posted on New Entry’s website and promoted through our dissemination strategies described below.
As a result of this partnership project, over 80 small-scale and limited resource producers in Massachusetts will learn strategies and change on-farm behavior to improve crop quality and food safety practices in farm management via new production, harvest, and post-harvest handling methods for specialty crops. Of these, at least 30% will increase their product liability insurance coverage required by institutional and other wholesale purchasers. This project will enable beginning farmers to reach new institutional markets (especially through the World PEAS Food Hub’s institutional partners such as dining services, neighborhood health centers, WIC, Summer Feeding and Elder Homebound Seniors programs), many of whom serve low-income clients who struggle with access to fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables. This will result in greater economic viability for these new farmers, increase their confidence in accessing wholesale markets, and increase local food security for consumers. We will measure results through farmer interviews and via increased revenues generated by the Food Hub per producer. An additional 2000+ Massachusetts producers will receive outreach concerning crop quality and harvest guidance materials through access to resources developed by New Entry and made available through our website (tracking downloads), project partners, and social media sources. We also estimate that at least 16,500 consumers in Massachusetts will receive the benefit of improved access to high quality fresh specialty crops through this project as World PEAS expands institutional sales with new partners and more farmers adopt wholesale market strategies.