Local Economies Project | The New World Foundation

Local Economies Project

With LEP’s support, Hudson Valley Farmers Complete GAPs Training

Food safety has become increasingly important in recent years, and many produce buyers are putting pressure on farmers to get third-party food safety certification audits that prove they are doing everything they can to minimize risks of contamination. However, many Hudson Valley producers who sell to wholesale markets have limited resources to help them prepare for these audits and the work they entail. Furthermore, there are many misconceptions about what is required by different audits, and many rumors about extreme costs and labor needed to pass the audit.

To assist farmers in meeting these food safety requirements, CCE Orange County launched a wholesale readiness program in 2014, which is coordinated by resource educator Erik Schellenberg and funded by LEP. The wholesale readiness program helps farms navigate the confusing landscape of food safety and get the certifications they need to stay competitive in the modern marketplace.

Already, the readiness program is showing results. Two large Hudson Valley farms, Hepworth Farms and Migliorelli Farms, recently completed their food safety audits and obtained their Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) certifications after going through the program. This fall, the Hudson Valley Farm Hub also received the certification.

“We congratulate Hepworth and Migliorelli Farms in obtaining their GAPs certification and are glad to see the wholesale readiness program, which we are proud to support, continues to be helpful to regional farmers,” said Sarah Brannen, LEP’s associate director for programs.

Hepworth Farms is a seventh-generation family farm in Ulster County with over 500 acres of organically certified production land, making it one of the largest organic vegetable farms in the state. After attending a GAPs two-day training as part of the wholesale readiness program, Gail Hepworth and other employees from the farm worked with Schellenberg over the course of the next year to write and revise a food safety plan and to understand all relevant details of food safety practices. Once the procedures were in place, Hepworth passed the audit with flying colors.

“We’ve been doing food safe practices for years, but going through the process of GAPs classes and food safety plan writing has helped our farm get to the next level. Getting the USDA GAPs certification has forced us to better execute our food safety practices and get the whole team on board…the customers who were asking us to get a third-party certification are happy,” said Hepworth Farms Owner Gail Hepworth.

Migliorelli Farms is a third-generation fruit and vegetable farm located in Dutchess County with over 400 acres in production. Employees from Migliorelli attended a GAPs training in Dutchess County in 2015 after hearing about the importance of modernizing their food safety practices. During the next year, several meetings were held to work through some specific challenges such as figuring out which crops to certify, determining which packinghouse modifications were required, and implementing record-keeping practices. This summer, Migliorelli received GAPs certification, enabling them to market their produce to a wider range of wholesale buyers.

Food safety certification is a complicated process, and it can be a hurdle for farms where time and labor are in short supply. The wholesale readiness project allows farmers to quickly get through the difficult process, decreasing the chances of contaminated produce and therefore reducing economic liability. In addition, the certification satisfies buyers’ needs and helps farmers maintain their place in a competitive marketplace.

This post was contributed by Erik Schellenberg, GAPs Trainer for Cornell Cooperative Extension Orange County. 

Featured photo: Hepworth Farms by John Fisher.

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