Child Nutrition program operators may want to visit a farm before purchasing produce. During a visit, you can observe and ask questions about produce handling and food safety practices. Consider scheduling your visit in advance since it takes time from the farmer’s schedule. You can organize a group visit with other child nutrition program operators in your area. The information below may help you have a productive visit.
What are Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs)?
GAPs are a voluntary set of principles that apply to on-farm production and post-production processes. The FDA outlines eight basic principles of microbial food safety for the growing, harvesting, packing, and transporting of fresh produce. These principles focus on
- manure and municipal biosolids,
- worker health and hygiene,
- sanitary facilities,
- field sanitation,
- packing facility sanitation,
- transportation, and
- traceback and recordkeeping.
Farmers can develop preventive controls for produce safety using these principles.
What is the Food Safety Modernization Act (FMSA) and the Produce Safety Rule (PSR)?
FSMA is a federal law enacted by Congress in 2011. Covered food businesses must adhere to rules, implemented by the FDA, to protect the safety of food for human and animal consumption. The PSR is one of the FSMA rules and sets clear, science-based minimum standards for the growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of fruits and vegetables for human consumption. The PSR became effective in 2016. It aims to prevent contamination and reduce the risk of foodborne illness in fresh produce. While many farms are covered, there are exemptions to the PSR including:
- Raw agricultural commodities.
- Very small farms with average annual sales of $25,000 and below during the previous 3-year period, adjusted for inflation.
Planning Your Farm Visit
Plan to visit the farm and observe food safety practices before purchasing produce. You should consider visiting each farm you purchase products from. When visiting the farmer, it’s important to be mindful of their property and their crops. You are not only visiting their business, but often their homes.
- Finding a Farm
Finding farms to work with is the first step. Follow these suggestions to locate farms that may be a good fit for your operation:
- Contact cooperative extension agents in your area.
- Check with the state department of education or agriculture to find out if there is a farm to school coordinator in your state. Contact your state farm to school coordinator, if applicable.
- Look for lists of farms in your area from your state department of education or agriculture.
- Contact other school nutrition directors in your area who are purchasing local products from farms.
- Talk to farmers at your local farmers' markets.
- Refer to the list of GAP or Good Handling Practices certified farms through USDA’s third-party audit program.
- Visit farm to school and community-based agriculture websites.
- Initial Steps
- Introduce yourself as a potential buyer at farms you haven't purchased from before.
- Know the types of products and quantities you may purchase.
- See if the farmer would want to sell to your program or district. It might be necessary to have several conversations.
- Ask if the farm currently works with other child nutrition program operators, or if they have in the past. Ask if they are willing to share contact information to use as a reference.
- Explain your responsibility to purchase food from suppliers with good food safety practices.
- Let the farmer know you'd like to see their safety practices during your tour. This could include produce harvesting, equipment and facility cleaning and sanitization, etc.
- Ask if they prefer to be contacted by phone or email and provide your contact information.
- Discuss how much time you will have for the tour and if they have time afterwards for questions.
- Scheduling the Visit
- Find out what produce is grown on the farm and when it is harvested, stored, and packed.
- Ask if any produce might be available to observe in the field or after harvest during the visit.
- Ask about the growing and handling practices of produce that is not currently in season.
- Send the farmer a list of items you would like to discuss, such as the Checklist for Retail Purchasing of Local Produce, or a similar tool, before your visit. Explain that you would like to discuss the items on the checklist and why these are points of interest. Ask the farmer to review before your visit.
- Know your liability insurance coverage requirements for food products purchased from a farm. Discuss them with the farmer.
- Determine a date and time to schedule a visit. Be flexible on time of day and day of week. Farmers usually work long hours that may not align with your schedule.
- Determine who will visit the farm with you and tell the farmer about all visitors in advance.
- Know how much time you'll have to visit and ask questions.
- Be sure to get the farm’s address, driving directions, and parking instructions.
- Answer any questions the farmer has about your visit and your expectations. The farmer may ask questions because visitors can introduce pests or pathogens.
Preparing for the Farm Visit
Be prepared to walk around the farm and be outside for extended periods of time. You should wear appropriate attire, and consider wearing comfortable, closed-toed, sturdy shoes. Bring anything you might need, like a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, water, notebook, and a pen or pencil.
Ask if photos or videos are allowed before taking any and explain how you might use them. This exposure may enhance the farmer’s recognition in the community. A signed release form is recommended, and may be required by your district, if you use these photographs or videos.
Confirm your district’s insurance policies in case of accidents or injuries during the visit. Ask your employer about their insurance policies if applicable.
Farm Operations to Observe
Ask questions and discuss food safety practices across the operation during your visit. Be prepared to follow any sanitation and safety procedures required by the farm. You may be asked to wear hairnets, gloves, and shoe coverings. Observe as much of the farm operation as possible, including the following:
- What's currently growing in the field.
- Equipment and supplies, like tractors, harvesting containers and equipment, cleaning and sanitizing supplies, and delivery trucks.
- Packing sheds, on-site storage locations, chemical storage facilities, and any other facilities.
- Storing, harvesting, and packing processes.
Other discussion topics that may be helpful when visiting a farm are:
- Food Safety Discussion Topics
- Crop selection
- Seasonal information
- Food product liability insurance
- Food safety documentation
- GAPs audit results (if applicable)
- Organic procedures (if applicable)
- Pre- and post-harvest water sources and information
- Manure and compost practices
- Soil composition and testing
- Land use history
- Wildlife control
- Chemical and pesticide management
- Harvest practices
- Handling and processing procedures
- Employee health, hygiene, and training practices and documentation
- Documentation practices or recordkeeping methods
- Traceability methods and documentation
- Purchasing Discussion Topics
The farm’s procedures for working with customers may be different than your district’s procedures for working with vendors.
- You may have to review federal procurement regulations before the farm visit. This includes formal and informal procurement methods.
- Learn how the farmer prefers to do business, and be willing to be flexible, if you can.
- Ask about delivery practices and payment expectations. Remember that many farmers receive payment immediately and may not be able to wait.
- Delivery Capacity
- Does the farmer deliver?
- Can the farmer deliver in temperature-controlled environments? This includes refrigerated trucks, coolers with ice, etc.
- Is the equipment used to transport produce adequate and clean?
- Is the produce covered during transportation?
- How often is the farmer willing to deliver?
- How will the farmer maintain chain of custody during delivery?
- What days of week and times of day could deliveries take place? What days of week and times of day is pick-up possible?
- If the farmer does not currently work with a distributor, would they be willing to?
- Ordering and Payment
- How does the farmer handle ordering?
- How does the farmer invoice?
- How does the farmer accept payment?
- Is an alternate arrangement to their standard practices negotiable?
Thank the farmer for their time after your visit. Make sure you provide any information they requested. You can also invite the farmer to visit your facility!
- FNS's produce safety resources
- FNS's Farm to School Program and the Farm to School Program staff contact information
- Cornell University's information about GAPs
- Penn State Extension's Farm Food Safety resources
- Kansas State University's Extension FSMA Produce Safety Rule webpage
- NC State Extension's GAP certifications and FSMA's Produce Safety Rule