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Posts tagged: Specialty Crops Inspection Division

Food Safety Marketing Helps Pave Path to Success at Produce Auction

Under Secretary Ed Avalos (right) with AMS Associate Administrator Rex Barnes (middle) visiting with producers

Under Secretary Ed Avalos (right) with AMS Associate Administrator Rex Barnes (middle) visit with producers during their visit to the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction.

Finding new ways to market the safety and quality of your food is the key to success in the agricultural industry. This is especially true for our small and mid-sized growers who are looking to expand to various outlets. These growers are now turning to produce auctions as a way to sell their food to a wider range of customers such as retail wholesale buyers and farmers markets outside their local communities. 

In a recent trip to the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction in Dayton, Va., I saw approximately 400 growers use this auction to share their bountiful harvest. Taking place several times a year, the largest wholesale auction in Virginia is an excellent alternative market for small growers. Prospective buyers bid intensely to procure large lots of fruits, vegetables, flowers, bedding plants, trees and shrubs, fall decor (pumpkins, mums, gourds), and compost, to name a few. Read more »

Creating Opportunities for Georgia’s Produce Industry

Matt Jardina talking about the company’s cold storage capabilities while leading a tour

Matt Jardina talks about the company’s cold storage capabilities while leading a tour.

A solid vision combined with an innovative approach to reach new markets can yield success in the ag industry. During a recent trip to Atlanta, Ga., I got a chance to talk to state and industry leaders who are using both to solidify the future of their respective organizations.   

I joined a team of employees from the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) for a tour of the Atlanta State Farmers Market in Forest Park, Ga. Supporting truck, rail, and air access, the market is considered to be one of the premier terminal markets in the southeast. It includes more than 150 acres of retail, wholesale, and garden center space. We toured the historic market with the Georgia Department of Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black and his staff. Read more »

GroupGAP: Food Safety Assurance for Growers and Buyers Big and Small

Two women inside a high tunnel talking

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Specialty Crops Inspection Division (SCI) performs GAP audits, which are voluntary, third-party services that verify that farms are following industry-recognized food safety practices and recommendations from the FDA. Photo courtesy of Iowa Food Hub.

In the produce industry, food safety is front and center on everyone’s mind. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently released some of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) final rules, and retailers are looking to buy from FSMA-compliant suppliers. If you’re a retailer or large produce buyer, there is exciting news about a program that verifies that suppliers are meeting your food safety requirements. After three years of successful trials, USDA recently previewed our plans to expand the GroupGap Pilot Program.

Many producers are aware of “Good Agricultural Practices,” or GAP audits. The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Specialty Crops Inspection Division (SCI) performs GAP audits, which are voluntary, third-party services that verify that farms are following industry-recognized food safety practices and recommendations from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Read more »

USDA’s Commitment to Quality Foods

USDA Specialty Crops Inspection team outside

“We create opportunities for American ag businesses,” said Casey Wong-Buehler, AMS Commodity Procurement Program Specialist. “Trips like this help us ensure that our procurement requirements provide a realistic framework for our vendors to successfully supply quality food.”

Across the country, schools are back in session. Here at the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), our inspectors and procurement specialists work hard to make sure that quality, domestically-produced foods are delivered to students and other recipients for our federal food purchasing programs. As students are getting used to their new schedules, we would like to highlight how our own little field trip shed some light on a typical day for some of our employees.

A team of AMS employees recently traveled to Knouse Foods, a grower-owned cooperative that supplies apple and cranberry products for federal food purchasing programs. The employees saw first-hand how USDA inspectors help Knouse and other companies verify the quality of their products. As the apple sauce traveled through the facility, USDA inspectors pulled random samples to make sure that they met product quality and condition requirements. All USDA Foods are required to be inspected, and in this case, inspectors pulled samples of apple sauce to evaluate traits like its color, flavor, and consistency. As an independent third-party, the inspections help suppliers meet USDA Foods requirements but they also can help them meet requirements from other buyers. Read more »

USDA Program Helps High School Students Realize Ag Jobs are Everywhere

Summer student interns Joe Dionne and Elliot Alexander; Specialty Crops Inspection Division Assistant Central Region Branch Chief Phil Bricker; AMS Fruit and Vegetable Program Associate Deputy Administrator Chris Purdy

This summer, several employees joined our staff as interns in our New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia locations. The program allows students to gain practical work experience while the agency helps develop future leaders. (Pictured left to right): Summer student interns Joe Dionne and Elliot Alexander; Specialty Crops Inspection Division Assistant Central Region Branch Chief Phil Bricker; AMS Fruit and Vegetable Program Associate Deputy Administrator Chris Purdy. (AMS photo)

Here at the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), one of the many benefits of creating marketing opportunities for ag businesses is seeing first-hand how the industry supports 1 in 12 jobs all over the country. In addition to feeding the world, the ag industry continues to be the strong backbone in our nation’s economy – in both rural and urban areas. To help continue this trend, we set out to groom the next generation of ag leaders. Our Fruit and Vegetable Program developed a strong relationship with high schools in a couple of the country’s largest cities, allowing students to work with the agency while still enrolled in high school.

We started in New York City, home of the Hunt’s Point Terminal Market – the nation’s largest wholesale produce market – so that students at John Bowne High School could get their feet wet in the agriculture industry. We did this by offering the students the opportunity to come on board as interns for our Specialty Crops Inspection Division (SCI). Employees in this division inspect produce entering and leaving Hunt’s Point, which employs more than 10,000 people and generates $2 billion in sales annually. Thanks to a budding relationship with this school featuring a strong ag curriculum, students can now get practical work experience while in school. Read more »

USDA Goes All in for Produce Safety Outreach

Small grower Warren Ford in a field

The Harmonized GAPs Food Safety audit provided by AMS has helped small grower Warren Ford expand his business from selling a couple hundred bushels of peas a summer to selling more than 3,000 cases a summer to Walmart. Photo courtesy Warren and Rosha Ford.

For the produce industry, the summer and fall of 2015 is more than a chance to share a new season of crops with customers. It’s when several of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) laws will become final. FSMA 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 foodborne illnesses. My colleagues at the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) have been working hard with our partners to expand our outreach efforts about food safety to help the produce industry prepare for compliance.

One of the ways that we help the industry prepare for compliance is through a successful partnership with Cornell University and the FDA via the Produce Safety Alliance (PSA).  We recently renewed this partnership through a Cooperative Agreement that enables the three entities to devote funds for training and outreach events. Since 2010, AMS has enjoyed working with our colleagues to engage with produce growers, industry members, regulators, and extension educators through working committees, public meetings, focus groups, and webinars. Read more »