Business in motion, we turned to the company that had agreed to purchase our produce. Chartwells, Legacy Charter School’s dining services provider, promotes locally grown produce and supports local farms like Woodside City Farm. There was only one thing standing between us and our first major buyer – GAP Certification.
GAP, which stands for Good Agricultural Practices, are the basic environmental and operational conditions, as well as the growing and harvesting practices needed to safely produce fruits and vegetables. Simply put, it’s a voluntary audit program focused on food safety. Although it’s market-driven, meaning a buyer makes the choice of whether or not they require it, meeting GAP standards will also help us meet produce safety rules under the Foods Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
There are four principles of GAP that guide the point system:
- Prevention of microbial contamination
- Implementation of a Food Safety Program
- Follow all applicable laws
- Traceability, record keeping & documentation
- Four W’s + Surfaces
- Water, waste, workers & wildlife
- Surfaces – hands, containers, harvesting tools, etc.
As we read through the audit’s sections and point system, uncertainty began to set in. Not only would we need to design a food safety plan from scratch, but we would also need to consider food safety in terms of workers’ health and hygiene, our harvesting containers and equipment, bathroom facilities, and so much more. While many of the guidelines are common-sense farm practices, we were still intimidated to say the least.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with CFSA, they are the oldest and largest sustainable agriculture organization in the Southeast. Their mission is to help people in the Carolinas grow and eat local, organic food by advocating for fair farm and food policies, building the systems that organic family farms need to thrive, and educating communities about local, organic farming. CFSA offers workshops, regional conferences, farm tours, and initiatives targeted at helping new farmers get off the ground too.
The workshop was a success! Broken down and explained in perfect farm-speak, GAP certification no longer seemed so daunting. CFSA Local Produce Safety Manager, Patricia Tripp, led the workshop and walked us through each of the audit’s sections. She patiently answered each of our unique questions and, in addition, passed out useful resources for us to take home. We also toured Greenbrier Farms and learned how becoming GAP certified improved their business and left them even more confident about the quality of their food. Since the workshop, Patricia has gone above and beyond answering follow-up questions and providing recommendations.
Overall, the main takeaway from the workshop is that food safety begins with worker health and personal hygiene. As we get closer to being an operating farm, we plan to take full advantage of CFSA’s one-on-one training too. This will also include a mock audit to help identify potential risks and better assess our practices.
If you’re interested in learning more about GAP or other tools and/or resources for farmers, check out the upcoming CFSA events HERE!