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.