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Using Good Agricultural Practices to Integrate Food Safety Principles into Small Farm Production


The overall goal of this project is to use good agricultural practice (GAP) guidelines outlined by FDA and USDA to integrate food safety principles into small farm production of fresh and minimally processed fruits and vegetables in the New England region. Utilizing the outreach and research expertise of a New England food safety partnership, which includes the six land grant universities, the voluntary GAP guidelines will be used as the basis of a comprehensive educational and applied research program directed at the small farms in the six-state region. The regional effort will integrate research with innovative/diverse educational approaches that would assist small producers of fruits and vegetables understand and implement good agricultural practices.
<P>Specific objectives include: <OL> <LI> Determination of small grower/producer awareness of the voluntary GAP national initiative and its requirements, their current basic practices and food safety knowledge; <LI> Evaluation of consumer willingness to purchase and preference for GAP produce; 3) delineation of microflora on produce before and after GAP implementation; <LI> Completion GAP pilot educational programs for small farmers in all six states and evaluation of the effectiveness of different outreach approaches on farmer implementation and impact of GAP criteria.

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This project will use the good agricultural practice (GAP) guidelines developed by the FDA and USDA as the basis of a comprehensive educational and research program directed at the small farms in the New England region. The six-state regional effort will integrate research with innovative educational approaches to assist small producers of fruits and vegetables to understand and implement GAP's.
Utilizing a project management team and individual state advisory planning groups, three different outreach protocols will be used: certification/third party verification and marketing program, on-farm audit and follow-up recommendations, and voluntary workshops with minimal on-site education. Pilot educational programming for small producers will be initiated in each state using one of the outreach strategies. All three approaches will be evaluated and participants will be surveyed to assess their experiences with and effectiveness of the program and scope of implementation. Research initiatives, survey of target audiences and microbiological measurements, will be accomplished with accepted procedures, experimental design and statistical assessments. Specifically, this program include assessment of small producer's current awareness of GAP, their food safety knowledge, and their current agricultural practices. Consumers will also be randomly surveyed in the New England region to assess the importance of on-farm food safety practices as an incentive to purchase. Finally, the results be used to expand GAP programming to small farmers within the region and other states in the Northeast.
All project objectives were completed. Consumer and grower surveys were completed and results were used as part of the educational programming. Many growers already had components of GAP on-farm; however areas were identified where additional training was needed (; water quality/testing). Only 22% of consumers were completely confident in the safety of fruits and vegetables and 84% said that they would be willing to pay more for produce from a GAP certified farm. Microbiological testing of farm produce pre-and post-GAP outreach programming was completed for TPC, coliforms, generic E.coli and selected pathogens.While there were problems obtaining some post-GAP samples, valuable information was obtained. Very few samples from a variety of commodities tested had confirmed pathogens. All commodities tested in 4 of the 6 states, had no pathogens detected either pre or post. In one state, where the farmers participated in the certification program, pathogens present pre-GAP were not observed post-GAP. However, in a state where workshops were offered but received little interest, pathogens persisted in some produce samples. Two states (RI, CT) implemented the certification/marketing program, NH used an on-site audit and 3 states (MA,ME,VT) used workshops to deliver GAP information to the target audience. A GAP certification audit, PowerPoint presentations, grower and consumer fact sheets, brochures and GAP checklist were completed and used as educational resources for the outreach programming as well as website postings. Many outreach efforts were made in each state, to a variety of groups, using a variety of venues depending on which educational outreach model the state was using as a way to try to promote interest and participation. These included presentations at workshops, twilight, pesticide training and Grange meetings as well as via mailings, individual instruction and TV. While many farmers were introduced to GAP and its integration into on-farm practices,there was difficulty getting participation in the program, and there was varying success. As this was a voluntary and not regulatory program, there was a lack of urgency and little percieved benefit to the small producers. However, there was progress and very positive outcomes.There have been 16 farmers certified (13 in RI and 3 in CT). Once the farmers completed training and on-site audit, they were given marketing materials that identified them as GAP farms and brochures for distribution to consumers explaining the program. In RI, this approach was particularly successful at Farmer's Markets with some indicating that it had helped increase sales. In NH, 14 audits were completed. Evaluations indicated that NH farmers made changes in 1 or more practices, mostly in sanitation and worker/customer hygiene and, overall, educators felt the program was successful. States that only utilized workshops as outreach initiatives, had a more difficult time documenting impacts. Finally, state agency and/or educator support was critical to success programing. A CD containing all the educational resources developed was completed and will be sent to all state food safety contacts.
The overall impact will be to help educate small farmers in the New England about GAP principles so they can integrate food safety principles into on-farm production practices and, therefore, reduce the risk of microbial contamination of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Pivarnik, Lori
University of Rhode Island
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