Overview

Customer demand for local and regionally-produced food is stronger than ever. In response, small to mid-sized farmers are scaling up their businesses and entering wholesale markets. Producers that can demonstrate compliance with an audited food safety standard provide more confidence to their buyers. While many small to mid-size farms are committed to safe production practices, it can be cumbersome for them to comply with food safety requirements designed with large-scale agriculture in mind. Working for the past several years with the NGFN Food Safety Coordinator, Steve Warshawer, the Wallace Center has two interrelated food safety initiatives: GroupGAP and Food Hubs as a Locus for Food Safety Training.

GroupGAP

The Wallace Center at Winrock International has been working with USDA Agricultural Marketing Service for several years to bring about GroupGAP - a new option for growers of all sizes to achieve third party food safety certification.

In GroupGAP a food hub, co-op, or other producer association (the “central entity”) collaborates with producers to establish site-specific best practices for complying with a food safety standard. The group develops and implements a quality management system (QMS) built to an international standard (ISO 9001) that can be measured, analyzed, reviewed, and continually improved. After establishing the QMS, the central entity coordinates training and on-farm implementation of farm food safety procedures, monitors their ongoing usage, and manages their recording and reporting. The central entity internally audits each farm’s compliance with the food safety standard, while USDA externally audits the group’s adherence to their management system.

The traditional USDA GAP approach is to audit individual farms. This makes each farm responsible for the full administrative and financial burden of compliance. The GroupGAP approach provides an umbrella of support, with the central entity and participating producers addressing food safety compliance cooperatively. An accredited auditor continuously monitors farm food safety – significantly more expert oversight than a single annual external audit. The Group’s accountability to its members and itself becomes the rising tide that meets buyer expectations for quality.

Resources

Food Hubs as a Locus for Food Safety Training

The Wallace Center has established a cost-effective yet powerful innovation in food safety education. We have brought together three of the country’s best food safety educators to develop an engaging food safety curriculum for growers and those who support them. Starkly different from the typical, dry “just get through it” food safety education, this course engages those involved to “think like a food safety expert.” The curriculum does not teach to a particular third-party certification standard; each buyer might require a different standard. Rather, growers, and those who support them, are given a framework for thinking through and assessing hazards and risks relevant to any standard. 

Food hubs (aggregators and distributors of primarily local and regional food) have high trust relationships with their growers, many of whom manage smaller acreages. Moreover those producers who sell to food hubs are invested in the wholesale market - a sector where buyers are particularly interested in food safety. As coordinator of the NGFN Food Hub Collaboration, Wallace Center has been working with food hubs across the country to provide this high quality, useful and "user friendly" food safety training.

In addition to the innovative content, our delivery mechanism maximizes engagement, builds local food safety expertise, encourages a “culture” of food safety, and minimizes expenses. Our approach is a hybrid of on-site and distance learning, leveraging the value of each.