Training. It takes work ethic, commitment, and the willingness to learn. It can play a key role in how we grow as a community, industry or society. In the ever-evolving agriculture sector, training new farmers is vital for a thriving agricultural economy.
This is one of the main focus points for the Vermont Produce Program. The Produce Team within the Agency of Agriculture works to support produce growers in the areas of market development, market access, and produce safety rule comprehension and compliance.
With compliance dates looming for produce growers covered by the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule, one of the program’s most important tasks involves training growers about produce safety rule expectations and best practices.
The Produce Safety Alliance (PSA) Grower Training, a two-day, hands-on event held in early November at the beautiful and historic Vermont Youth Conservation Corp (VYCC) West Monitor Barn in Richmond, allowed produce safety program staff from the Agency and UVM Extension to share their knowledge and expertise on key requirements of the FSMA Produce Safety Rule that will impact Vermont growers. The interactive approach allowed state regulators, farmers and support organizations to collectively share their production experiences and produce safety questions.
“I thought this regulation was going to be a lot harder to follow. But now that I’m here it’s a lot easier to understand,” said one Vermont produce farmer in attendance at the PSA Grower Training.
Roughly 45 growers and service providers left the training with not only a greater understanding of the Produce Safety Rule, but also with the certificate necessary to satisfy the rule’s requirement that at least one responsible party from each covered farm receive training under a FDA recognized curriculum.
In addition to observing produce safety practices on a working produce operation, the Agency’s Produce Team presented the many technical and financial resources available to growers. Produce farms were encouraged to enroll in the Vermont Produce Portal, a resource to help farmers understand requirements and receive updates from the Agency.
Portal access will also allow produce farms to apply for Vermont Produce Safety Improvement Grants to help pay for on-farm improvements. Approximately $74,000 in funding will be available to assist Vermont produce growers as they install necessary infrastructure or make other on-farm improvements that help prevent or reduce known produce safety risks on their farms.
“Vermont is one of the only states I know of that is providing this kind of [grant] support for growers,” said Gretchen Wall, Produce Safety Alliance coordinator and Lead Trainer.
These grant funds will offer a level of support not only to help farmers financially meet standards, but to help them fundamentally understand ways to make our food safer and give farmers the training they need to help grow the Vermont produce industry.