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What is USDA GroupGAP and how could it help my farm?

What is USDA GroupGAP and how could it help my farm?

Chances are you’ve heard about USDA GroupGap, which was recently created by USDA to help farmers and buyers meet the increasing demand for local food while maintaining strong food safety standards.

groupgap2I was curious about learning more, so I did some research. Here is a quick rundown.

Group GAP makes the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) process for food safety more accessible to small and medium size farmers by allowing multiple growers to work together to obtain a single certification (as a group) and a cost-effective means to adhere to ongoing GAP requirements from buyers. The certification will be available for fruit and vegetables growers in the U.S. starting April 3, 2016. GroupGAP is intended to complement the Maryland version of GAP.

To qualify, a group of farmers must come together and sign up. A group Coordinator is selected and creates standard operating procedures (SOPs), a quality management system (first year a bit rigorous), keeps grower members in compliance, serves as a point of contact with USDA, and ensure the groups audit readiness.

Group GAPMembers are audited and renewed yearly– the better the group performs over the years, the less likely the USDA will review. The first year is more rigorous and costly than the later years, while the group gets going and performs their first audit. There is no limitation on farmer group size– it is up to the group to determine what they can manage under their quality management system (QMS). There are QMS examples for farmer groups available through the Wallace Center and other organizations.

Many of Maryland’s farmers are small to medium, so it might make sense for a group of local farms to work together toward one certification, rather than spend the time and money doing it on their own. Food hubs and other agricultural-related groups around the country are looking at or offering GroupGap as a way to offer technical assistance to growers. For instance, a coordinator within the food hub can take on the responsibility of obtaining the USDA audit training, handling the paperwork, working with the growers to be in compliance throughout the year, and working as the liaison with the USDA. Ideally, the farmer can farm, while the buyer rests assured.

For more information, I found this webinar by USDA helpful. (If you can’t watch the webinar, here is an informative fact sheet.)

Enhancing Wholesale Produce Distribution in So. Maryland

On December 14th SMADC is hosting a meeting for wholesale farmers to discuss the potential for enhancing the wholesale distribution of Southern Maryland produce. We will discuss GroupGAp as part of the meeting too. We would value your voices at the table as strategic thinkers and invite your frank comments and insight, where our main topic will be to discuss/explore potential to grow and enhance wholesale distribution. Detailed can be found here. If you cannot make the December meeting, we will host another in January, details coming soon.


Food security and food safety with locally sourced food

Food security and food safety with locally sourced food

USDA defines food security for a household as “access by all members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.” However, food security not only has food access and affordability components, it can be jeopardized by natural and man-made disasters. . .

old farmerAmericans are known for certain cultural traits such as independence, hard-work, inventiveness, and perseverance. The homesteading movement and beginning farmer movement harken back to the notion of being independent and feeding ourselves and our own communities.

Some have found it preposterous that our food is being off-shored or grown here, processed in China, and returned here for sale. The American psyche revolts at the notion that we have to rely on another country for our own food.

There are practical reasons why regions should be planning for more food independence, due to natural and made-made disasters. After 9-11, transportation systems shut down and store shelves emptied. There was speculation as to how many days it would be before major cities would run out of food.

Disruption of transportation and commerce was not the only type of attack considered by the terrorists. On November 19, 2003, Senator Susan Collins of Maine convened a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs on “Agroterrorism: the Threat to America’s Breadbasket.” In her introductory remarks,  she reported that “Hundreds of pages of U.S. agricultural documents recovered from the al Qaeda caves in Afghanistan early last year are a strong indication that terrorists recognize that our agriculture and food industry provides tempting targets.”

Senator Lautenberg of New Jersey noted that “Unfortunately, our food chain from lautenbergproduction to processing to distribution and consumption presents an all too easy target for those who want to harm America, and few targets have the impact that one could conceive as that coming from our food supply, something unknown that takes time to discover and then the time involved in reaching a large group of people in a given area, possibly a huge group if things go as one could imagine.” It would appear that if all of our food production was dispersed in small and medium farms, then the risk of attack on food systems would be lower.

Civil Eats story about Vermont's leadership in the local food movement
Civil Eats story about Vermont’s leadership in the local food movement

Another risk to food security lies in the fact that a majority of U.S. fruits and vegetables is grown in a region that has endured four years of drought and long term projections predict continued dry periods for the rest of the 21st century. Already we have seen the U.S. become more dependent on fruits and vegetables from foreign sources. Over 20% of fresh vegetables and over 50% of all fresh fruits are imported and less than 1%  is actually sampled for food safety compliance.

Due to modern food distribution systems and land use policies in the U.S., it is easier for a tomato from Mexico to reach grocery store shelves than a tomato from nearby farm communities. As reported by Civil Eats, Laurie Ristino, Vermont Law School’s director of the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems, says that current law is heavily bent toward the industrialized food system. Vermont has already made great progress at breaking down the barriers to a “relocalized” food system.

In Maryland, if we level the playing field for local farmers, we can stimulate the local economy, have fresher, tastier food and build in a measure of food security and food safety protection against natural and man-made food disasters. We can start by:

  • supporting local farmers markets,
  • helping farmers gain access to food distribution systems and institutions,
  • making sure that our local and state regulations permit retail sales and allow for value-added production. and
  • including local food production in our comprehensive plans and action strategies.




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