Fruits and vegetables are grown outside in the environment where there are several routes of potential contamination such as water, wild and domestic animals, and people. The aim of this project is to help small farmers implement risk reduction practices that have been outlined in the Good Agricultural Practices certification document. Over the past week, I visited three farms, Vollmer Farm, Bunn (25 acres); Perrywinkle Farm, Chapel Hill (5 acres); and Harland’s Creek Farm, Pittsboro (5 acres).
I’m maybe not the traditional person you might think of working closely with small farmers I completed my PhD in Food Science in December, 2009, working primarily in a lab setting but the real food safety issues are out in the field and processing plants. The hope is that the results of this project will identify barriers and solutions that small farmers face while implementing GAPs and attaining certification. As a food scientist I want to help growers, regardless of size, produce under the safest conditions. As this is a learning process for them it is also one for me, I will be onsite on a monthly basis tracking their progress and identifying pitfalls and successful solutions.
Vollmer Farms (certified through Quality Certification Services (QCS)) and Harland’s Creek Farms (certified through the International Certification Services (ICS)) produced their product organically for community supported agriculture programs and/or local farmers’ market. Perrywinkle farm has been certified in the past and sells a majority of their product at farmers’ market and some to local restaurants. Perrywinkle and Harland’s Creek farms have some of their profits coming from flowers and chickens (eggs and broilers (type of chicken raised specifically for meat production)). Perrywinkle farm in addition to chickens has pigs on their farm. Perrywinkle farm was told they could no longer sell chicken eggs at the farmers’ market if they did not have a method to keep the eggs refrigerated.
Both Perrywinkle and Harland’s Creek farms use risk reduction practices such as footbaths to prevent from bringing avian diseases into their flocks. One of the farmers asked me, “Should I be washing my boots after I go through the chicken houses and areas?” Specifically asking about stepping in raw manure and then walking into the produce fields to harvest. I recommended as a best practice to either change your shoes or go through a foot bath with a disinfectant (prepared according to label directions) to remove any contamination from animal feces (document 1, document 2, document 3, document 4). At Perrywinkle farms, chicken houses and pig areas are mixed into crop production areas with natural barriers for separation. The traffic flow from livestock areas into the produce fields can contribute to cross contamination.
Wild animals such as deer, rabbits, gophers, snakes, etc, can be sources of contamination in produce fields. Perrywinkle (one of their two fields) and Harland’s Creek farms have 8 foot fences to keep out wild animals specifically deer. In North Carolina the deer population can be a problem for farmers as well as drivers as you will see signs on the highways warning about deer crossing. Each farm also had at least one dog that roamed the property freely. Wild and domestic animals can contribute to cross contamination in fields and it is important to make an effort to keep them out for profits as well as food safety.
As this relates to the GAP certification process, under the Animals/Wildlife/Livestock section,
1-8 Crop production areas are not located near or adjacent to dairy, livestock, or fowl production facilities unless adequate natural or physical barriers exist. Total of 15 points.
1-12 Crop production areas are monitored for the presence or signs of wild or domestic animals entering the land. Total of 5 points and record is required to be kept showing an action was taken.
1-13 Measures are taken to reduce the opportunity for wild and/or domestic animals from entering the crop production areas. Total of 5 points and record is required to be kept showing an action was taken.
Passing a GAP certification audit is dependent on a score based on the risk reduction practices implemented on your farm. As shown above different practices have more weight than others such as 15 points versus 5 points. This project will work closely with farms to address areas where they can improve overall food safety practices on their farm but also identify the areas of the GAP certification audit that will weigh more heavily against them if not implemented. The ultimate goal is a passing score on the GAP certification audit and opening new markets for these small farmers.