Across the country, farmers growing fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops – or specialty crops – are being asked to be certified in USDA’s voluntary audit program, Good Agricultural Practices (GAP). From restaurants and hotels to schools and institutions, wholesale buyers want to ensure the fruits and vegetables they purchase meet food safety standards under the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). One challenge for growers in many states is the lack of in-state auditors to perform the GAP certification reviews.
One solution has been to leverage another USDA resource to educate and train producers, handlers and buyers on-farm food safety practices. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) offers Specialty Crop Block Grants (SCBG) to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops which includes supporting GAP certification audits. Since 2006, these grants have launched over 107 GAP and Good Handling Practices (GHP) outreach and training projects, and funded 116 GAP/GHP cost share projects through State departments of agriculture. Read more »
AMS plays an integral role by providing organic data, standards, and other resources to small producers and consumers across the country.
Consumers can find certified organic products at most grocery stores and demand for organic products continues to increase, with U.S. retail sales valued at more than $43 billion in 2015. Organic products are grown, raised and produced by over 31,000 certified operations, and many of those operations receive higher prices, or premiums, for their products.
Recently, USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) issued a report entitled Changes in Retail Organic Price Premiums from 2004 to 2010. The report highlights the retail price premium charged for organic foods compared to conventional products. For the report, ERS used a virtual shopping basket of 17 products and data collected from Nielsen scanners to calculate the organic prices and how they changed from 2004-2010. Read more »
GAP certification can make it easier for commercial buyers to find farmers and producers that meet food-safety requirements and offer consumers greater access to fresh produce.
July is the height of summer grilling season and throughout the month USDA is highlighting changes made to the U.S. food safety system over the course of this Administration. For an interactive look at USDA’s work to ensure your food is safe, visit the USDA Results project on Medium.com and read Chapter Seven: Safer Food and Greater Consumer Confidence.
Although farmers and food businesses have anywhere from several months to three years or more before they will need to comply with the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) new food safety rules, many producers are asking how they can bring their operation into compliance – and many buyers are beginning to ask how they’ll know if suppliers are following the rules.
USDA and the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) are working with industry and other government agencies to help ensure that stakeholders in the produce industry know the answers to these questions. Read more »
Farmers Scott and Susan Hill in front of their pollinator garden. “We had an agricultural specialist visit our farm operations who told us we needed more pollinators,” explained Susan Hill. “We initially added two bee hives and established a pollinator garden. It was amazing, our tomato production increased by 25 percent in the first year!”. Photo by Hill Farm
Since it’s National Pollinator Week, it seemed fitting to express my thanks to farmers Scott and Susan Hill – who run the Hill Farm outside Charlottesville, VA. Earlier, I had the chance to visit their 10-acre property former tobacco farm to see firsthand how hard they are working to grow a variety of produce for the local customers. But there are more little workers helping on the Hill Farm too. Pollinators!
In the United States, about one third of all agricultural output depends on pollinators. Insects and other animal pollinators are vital to the production of healthy crops for food, fibers, edible oils, medicines, and other products. It’s clear that pollinators are important to the Hill Farm for their production of their artisan and specialty varieties of several vegetables, including lettuce, asparagus, tomatoes and even golden beets. And the first year, the addition of bees increased their tomato production by 25 percent. Read more »
A bar chart showing pricing comparisons for common organic and farmers market vegetables. Visit agriculture.vermont.gov/localfooddatatracking for the full report from agriculture.vermont.gov.
When comparing product prices between farmers markets and retail stores, local products are competitively priced – within a 10 percent price range – at farmers markets a majority of the time, even less expensive for some foods. Local, certified organic products at farmers markets are almost always competitively priced when compared to prices at retail stores.
These are just some of the findings from a recent project conducted by the Local Foods Data Tracking Program, a joint effort between USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Market News division and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, & Markets (VAAFM). Prices were collected on a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as a selection of meat and poultry products grown and sold in Vermont. Read more »
On market day, Crossroads Farmers Market creates a lively, safe community gathering space, bringing together food growers, makers, and consumers. The market is tied closely to the primarily low-income, mostly immigrant community with 75% of their vendors being immigrants. Photo by Molly M. Peterson
Anticipation is building for the opening of seasonal farmers markets in communities across the country—especially in Takoma Park, MD, at the Crossroads Farmers Market. With over 1,000 visitors each week and vendors offering 131 different fruits and vegetables, market manager Michelle Dudley has a lot of work to do figuring out the perfect placement of farmers and vendors coming to the market starting June 1.
Thanks to USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), she has it all mapped out! Read more »