Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon, SK
Food safety regulations in the US have divided Big Ag and Small Ag into opposing camps, but there is one thing we can all be united on – Good Agricultural Practices (GAP). “Grow Responsibly” should be everyone’s mantra, regardless of size or country.
I attended a GAP workshop in 2011, and it was a real eye opener. I have been looking at and thinking about my business differently ever since. It was clear back then that implementation of GAP standards was being driven by industry groups and chain supermarkets to ensure, through a certification process, the safety of their far-flung supply chain. But what was enlightening to me when I started to wade through the manual was how it clarified the risks in food safety that I intuitively knew, but did not think all that much about.
Sure, the whole point of rebuilding local food systems is to keep the length of the supply chain short, thereby making it easier to monitor and control. “Direct marketing” is exactly that, moving food from farmer’s plot to market to plate. But every farmer faces risks when it comes to food safety, and it’s a worthy exercise for SPIN-scale farmers to identify them and devise strategies to deal with them.
Reviewing the GAP material and evaluating what is most relevant and do-able for your operation will take time. Looking ahead, it will be a good winter project. Or, if you are selling at a farmers market, you might recommend to your manager that they bring in a GAP workshop presenter at the end of this season when business quiets down to help you get started.
A good warm up for GAP is a free online tool developed by Family Farmed which walks you through how to develop a food safety plan for your farm. It was developed in 2013 when the fight over food safety in the US was raging, and it is obviously designed for the big boys. But we can all benefit from reviewing harvesting and post-harvesting protocols, especially newbie growers. Much of the information is common sense, which nowadays may not be so common.
However is easiest for you to get up to speed on GAP, I’d highly recommend that you get familiar with the standards and begin to implement as much as you can next year so that you can display a GAP manual at your market stand or on your online storefront. You do not have to claim to be GAP certified; just use it to show you are aware of, and practice, the highest levels of food safety.
The fight over reasonable food safety regulation drags on, but it does not have to drag down your business in the process. The safest attitude to have is “If you can’t beat ’em join ’em.” Farms of all sizes benefit from abiding by GAP standards, and attending a GAP workshop is a worthwhile investment for any farmer who is serious about their business.
Here are 5 good resources to help you think through your food safety practices:
USDA checklist: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5091326
Canada GAP manuals: http://www.canadagap.ca/tools/audit-checklist/
CODEX List of standards: http://www.codexalimentarius.org/standards/list-of-standards/
On-Farm Food Safety Project (OFFS): an online program that identifies and helps you assess various aspects of food safety: http://onfarmfoodsafety.org/
Farm Food Safety Decision Tree Project: an online program that helps you identify and evaluate food safety risks from Cornell University: http://www.gaps.cornell.edu/tree.html
These organizations provide standards and administer programs to gain certification that the food you are growing and selling is safe. Certification is voluntary.
In Canada GAP standards were originally devised by the Canadian Horticultural Society in 2000. They are currently administered by a non-profit corporation called CanAgPlus. http://www.canadagap.ca
In the US GAP standards are administered by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service.http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/GAPGHPAuditVerificationProgram
Internationally GAP standards are administered by CODEX Alimentarius Commission, established in 1963 by the World Health Organization and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO). http://www.codexalimentarius.org/