Produce Safety Grants Improve Food Safety and Help Farms Grow

07 June 2020

By Gina Clithero, VT Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets

Produce farms across the state are gearing up for a busy production season. In the midst of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many growers are entering into this growing season asking hard questions about market resilience, labor changes, and production planning. Paramount among these questions is how growers can continue providing nutritionally important fruits and vegetables to the region while safeguarding public health. The good news is that foodborne exposure to coronavirus is not known to be a route of transmission. The coronavirus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person. However, there’s no better time for farms to review, improve, and reinforce standard operating procedures for cleaning, sanitizing, disinfecting, and drying any food contact surfaces, food handling equipment, bins, and tools. By taking proactive measures to reduce produce safety risks, farms are also building in efficiencies and resilience that will help safeguard against further spread of the virus, particularly among farm workers.

The Produce Safety Improvement Grant (PSIG) program has helped growers take these proactive measures by supporting farms in making produce safety improvements for the past two years. While the grant program is primarily aimed at reducing the risk of microbial contamination of fresh produce that can result in foodborne illness, these on-farm practices can also help farms adapt to new conditions, such as those posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

In March 2020, the PSIG program awarded $103,551 to 18 Vermont produce farms making on-farm improvements that prevent or reduce produce safety risks. This grant round was funded by the Vermont State Legislature, the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program and the Castanea Foundation.  To date, the Vermont Produce Safety Improvement Grant program has awarded $307,665 in grants to 47 Vermont farms. Each round saw an impressive range of applications and, due to high demand, not everyone who applied was able to receive funding.  Projects granted in this round include renovations to wash and pack areas, equipment installations and upgrades, and improvements to produce cold storage on the farms listed below:

  • Burnt Rock Farm to purchase a stainless steel and plastic barrel washer to wash root crops such as beets and carrots ($5,810)
  • Clearfield Farm to renovate an unused dairy barn to transition to an indoor processing, packing, and storage space ($7,000)
  • Common Roots to upgrade to stainless steel wash/pack surfaces, and to purchase bins, a garden cart, and a washing machine to convert to a cleanable greens spinner ($2,628)
  • Deep Meadow Farm to increase cold storage capacity ($7,000)
  • Diggers’ Mirth Collective Farm to elevate packing totes and hoses off the floor, repair a roof leak, and purchase designated wash/pack scales and workwear ($4,317)
  • Field Stone Farm to install washable walls in an existing walk-in cooler, and to purchase a new stainless steel greens spinner, harvest bins, dollies, and stainless steel racks ($6,404)
  • Foote Brook Organic Farm to purchase stainless steel tables, a 3 bay sink, and a commercial faucet, drain, and hot water heater ($3,610)
  • Footprint Farm to purchase stainless steel tables, shelving, harvest totes, and hose reels to improve packhouse cleanability ($7,000)
  • Good Heart Farmstead to enclose and weatherize an existing wash/pack station and install washable walls and equipment ($7,000)
  • Honey Field Farm to purchase an ice machine to quickly remove field heat from harvested crops ($3,707)
  • Intervale Community Farm to purchase a readily cleanable greens spinner and field monitoring equipment to enhance traceback capability ($3,708)
  • Lester Farm to purchase additional color-coded harvest, storage, and transport containers ($3,415)
  • Old Road Farm to drill a new well for agricultural use and purchase flip-top harvest and storage totes ($7,000)
  • ShakeyGround Farm to initiate a pack shed upgrade by installing subfloor components and laying a concrete floor with trench drains ($7,000)
  • Small Axe Farm to install lighting, washable walls, carts, stainless steel tables, a handwashing sink, and purchase postharvest bins ($7,000)
  • Squier Family Farm to install roof and washable flooring, and acquire stock tanks, tables, a washing machine to convert to a cleanable greens spinner, and bins ($7,000)
  • Sunrise Organic Farm LLC to repair an agricultural well casing to prevent surface water from entering the well ($7,000)
  • Wildstone Farm to enclose and weatherize a wash/ pack shed and to purchase a stainless steel 3 bay sink and tables ($6,952)

The Agency’s Produce Program is committed to assisting produce growers with making produce safety improvements and upgrades to their farm operation focused on food safety and improving the sustainability of their businesses.  For more details about the program visit agriculture.vermont. gov/produceprogram. For COVID-19 updates and resources for agriculture businesses, visit agriculture.vermont.gov/covid-19- information

Contact Information

Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets

116 State Street
Montpelier, Vt 05620-2901
802.828.2430

 

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