Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of attending a public meeting held by our colleagues at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to provide an update for the pending Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). This law will make significant changes to the country’s food safety laws, including the first-ever regulation of fresh produce and a more proactive approach to preventing food-borne illnesses. I spoke on behalf of my agency – the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) – as part of a panel of domestic and international officials who provided the government’s perspective on how we would like to see the final law implemented.
With several of the law’s rules set to become final later this summer and early in the fall, the FDA is still seeking comments and suggestions for the best way to implement FSMA. The meeting, which included breakout sessions where participants could start an open dialogue about the implementation, is part of the FDA’s emphasis on educating the industry before regulating it. Read more »
Introducing the USDA Specialty Crops Inspection Division which highlights the various services that AMS provides the produce industry.
Ensuring that its food meets the demands of its retailers and the consumers who eat it is essential to the success of any produce business. This builds consumer trust and helps retailers confidently supply the food we all eat. To help out on this front, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) offers audits through the USDA Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) & Good Handling Practices (GHPs) Audit Verification Program.
A voluntary service provided by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), GAPs audits verify that fruits and vegetables are grown, packed, handled, and stored safely. The audits certify that operations are following guidance from the Food and Drug Administration and industry-recognized food safety practices that can minimize the risks of food-borne illnesses. AMS Specialty Crops Inspection (SCI) Division employees accomplish this through activities like evaluating food safety plans, walking the farm looking for food safety risks and performing unannounced visits to farms and facilities. The audits focus on waste management, such as animal manure; water quality; wildlife; and worker health and hygiene. Read more »
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 »