For large farming operations, food safety audits are commonplace. Most buyers require them before purchasing produce. However, small farms are rarely inspected by auditors, because the cost of implementing a safety plan can be too expensive.
That's where Bridging the GAPs - a program designed to help small and mid-sized growers find a way to meet food safety guidelines - comes in.
Organized by the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA), the initiative will allow modest-sized operations to reach broader markets such as schools, grocery stores and restaurants, most of which now require Good Agricultural Practices certification.
Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) is a set of protocols approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that farmers can follow to prove they're growing and harvesting in a way that minimizes the risk of crop contamination.
However, because these standards require extra time, equipment and sometimes land, they are often daunting or even prohibitive to small and mid-sized farmers.
At a farm in Bellingham, WA this month, farmers, state and local health officials and community members gathered to begin a dialogue on how to make GAPs easier for modest farms to swallow. The group toured Cedarville Farms, a family-operated, 7-acre organic farm, in order to get a first-hand look at the obstacles that stand between small farms and GAPs certification.