Our region is fortunate to have an abundance of small farmers from whom we can purchase fresh, locally-grown produce while supporting the people who work the land we all love. In addition to freshness, and scenic vistas, consumers also demand their food be safe to eat. The management practices that a farm uses are the first step toward the production of safe, healthy, local food. Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) are a set of management practices that, if followed, help growers reduce the risk of microbial contamination of fresh produce.
Microbes are naturally present in our environment; however, some of them can cause us serious illness if they enter our bodies, such as salmonella and E. coli. All fresh produce has the potential to serve as an incubator and a vector for these microbes.
While it's not possible to completely sanitize fresh produce, growers can take steps to minimize the likelihood of hazardous microbial contamination. These steps include: following proper field siting; preparation; growing techniques; correctly timing manure; compost and crop protection material application; properly training workers on health and hygiene as well as cleaning and sanitation practices; and applying "trace-back" systems and documentation to ensure farmers are able to grow, process and distribute food safely.
Formal GAPs audits are currently being adopted for many large-scale produce operations. But they can be difficult and cost-prohibitive on a smaller scale, a category many local farmers fall into. Recognizing the need to assist small to medium sized growers, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is taking proactive steps to "ensure a safe, secure, and wholesome food supply" by tailoring a food safety program specifically for our smaller, local and regional farmers.
The federal and state agriculture departments and Michigan State University created an educational Safe Food Risk Assessment Tool for farmers. Using this tool helps growers examine their farm practices, identify any risks to food safety, and develop an action plan to minimize those risks. Staff from the Grand Traverse Conservation District works with our local growers to implement an action plan to address identified risks to food safety. Farmers who complete the assessment with a passing score will receive a certificate of completion which can be used to demonstrate that they are implementing responsible practices to deliver safe, high quality food to their customers. We in the greater Grand Traverse region can buy produce from these growers with greater confidence knowing that they are implementing safe food management practices.
Several of our local growers are actively involved with addressing food safety on their farms and are among the first farms in the state to have successfully completed the Michigan Safe Food Risk Assessment. These farms have taken steps to implement GAPs in order to provide customers with the absolute best product.
Farms that have successfully completed the Michigan Safe Food Risk Assessment include:
- Zenner Farms: A family farm growing hydroponic tomatoes, lettuce, and cucumbers. Located near Kingsley, they work hard to provide the best growing environment for their produce, resulting in a top-quality harvest. You can find Zenner's produce at Oleson's, Burritts, Maxbauers, many area restaurants or at the farm stand at 1896 Clous Rd.
- Bardenhagen Berries: A family farm located among the hills of Leelanau County. Pam and Steve Bardenhagen, along with a sizable team of seasonal help, grow some of the tastiest cherries, strawberries, and blackberries around. You can find Bardenhagen Berries at local farmers markets, retail stores, or by calling 231-271-3026.
It's still important to take proper care of produce once it leaves the farm by properly cleaning, separating, cooking and chilling food. More details on how to follow food safety practices in your kitchen can be found at: www.foodsafety.gov.
If you are interested in learning more about a Safe Food Risk Assessment for your farm, contact Garrett Coggon at the Grand Traverse Conservation District at 231-941-0960 ext. 27 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Garrett Coggon is a safe food technician for the Grand Traverse Conservation District. It works with more than 100 local farmers to adopt practices that safeguard water quality, prevent soil erosion and protect crops from contamination. Learn more at www.natureiscalling.org.