A USDA pilot program is helping small producers reach more retail markets by making Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification more accessible and affordable. Under the pilot, cooperatives, food hubs and other groups of small producers can pool resources to implement food safety training programs, perform internal inspections and share the cost of GAP certification.
For their communities, small farmers are anything but small. Their contributions are quite large – not only do they provide food for local residents – they also create jobs and economic opportunities. However, retailer requirements and the cost of marketing can make it difficult for small producers to scale up and reach larger markets. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is working to remove those barriers by offering a number of services that help small and local producers grow and sustain their businesses.
In the produce industry, more and more retailers require suppliers to have Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification, which verifies that the operation is following industry-recognized food safety practices and recommendations from the Food and Drug Administration. For small farmers, getting GAP certified can be difficult and expensive. To help offset some of these costs, the AMS Specialty Crops Inspection Division and Transportation and Marketing Program are partnering with the Wallace Center at Winrock International to implement a Group GAP Pilot Project. Read more »
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visits Blue Ridge Produce in Elkwood, VA on Thursday, May 30, 2013. Blue Ridge Produce is a local food hub aggregating Virginia-grown fruits and vegetables for sale to wholesale customers in the Capitol region. (L to R Blue Ridge Produce Jim Epstein, Blue Ridge Produce Mark Seale, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack). USDA Photo by Bob Nichols.
Mark Seale got out of agriculture early. A Virginia native raised on the family farm, he didn’t see a future in the business once he finished high school – and his family didn’t argue with him.
But over the years, Mark found himself drawn back to agriculture in Virginia. Working with produce was something he’d grown up around, and a desire to do something in the industry was tugging at him. He returned to Virginia and opened Simply Fresh Produce, a retail outlet in Charlottesville. That’s where he met Jim Epstein, a real estate developer concerned about the disappearance of Virginia farmland. Jim knew that economically viable farms were the best buffer against development pressure and that smart development could in turn strengthen the local food system. So in 2010, Jim and Mark joined forces to build Blue Ridge Produce, a food hub in the rural community of Elkwood. Read more »
A young boy smiles over a bowl of freshly washed apricots. Select apricots that are plump with golden orange color, but avoid ones that are pale yellow, greenish-yellow, shriveled or bruised.
As the cold, drab winter gives way to warmer temperatures and the crisp colors of spring, our longing for stews and other comfort foods ebbs, making way for some warm-weather favorites. Picnics, hiking and other outdoor activities heighten the appeal of lighter, fresh salad greens, fruits, and vegetables. From strawberries to broccoli, apricots to artichokes—we offer a few tips to help you pick the best of the season’s offerings. Read more »
A vendor places tomatoes into a plastic bag for a customer at a Maryland farmers market. Many beginning producers use farmers markets as the gateway to direct marketing opportunities. Photo by Elvert Barnes
This week we’ve celebrated farmers markets as a vibrant segment of U.S. agriculture that offers a unique and personal way to connect producers and consumers. We highlighted decades of farmers market participation, updated the status of farmers markets across the U.S., offered an example of innovation in the lessons learned by a market in Kentucky, and explained how structure and function interact through farmers market architecture. Now, with National Farmers Market Week coming to a close tomorrow, we thought we should share some perspective on how farmers markets fit into the larger local and regional food landscape. Read more »
A GAP certified farm field. “Consumers expect that the produce they consume is safe to eat. That process starts in the fields and groves...” Photo and quote provided by Mission Produce.
Food safety and the prevention of food borne illness is a priority across the food supply chain in the United States. With the development of better notification systems and increased consumer awareness of food safety, there is a need for greater accountability and for consistent standards and practices across the board. Read more »
A root vegetable stew. Preparing a colorful dish like this is the perfect way to celebrate root vegetable month. (Photo courtesy of Marylin Acosta)
During December, we often fill our plates with holiday treats. Traditional foods like ham, turkey, latkes or brisket are often the star of our meals, but there is still plenty of room on your plate to celebrate root vegetable month. Read more »