Safe produce begins with the production and handling practices on the farm. Produce that is grown and sold with little biological contamination is less likely to result in health hazards caused by poor handling during later preparation stages. Producers and their employees have the critical job of minimizing product contamination by learning about potential sources of contamination and by using Good Agricultural Practices (GAP).
The first part of the GAP Training Program is education. A curriculum has been developed through the Virginia and North Carolina Cooperative Extension that is presented to local producers to help reduce the risk of products becoming contaminated. GAP training gives producers resources that will aid them in completing step two, their farm safety plan. Upon completion of this class the farmer receives a GAP Training Certificate issued by North Carolina Cooperative Extension.
GAP training will be offered on March 12, 14, and 21 from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. at North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Stokes County Center, in Danbury. There is a $75 fee for the training and registration should be done before March 8 by calling 593-8179.
The second step of the GAP process is the completion of the farm safety plan. This process is unique to each farm. It allows the producer to go over his or her operation step-by-step and to identify possible benefits and/or deficiencies in their production practices. Producers can then make the necessary adjustments to ensure GAP is being followed.
The final step is the third-party audit certification. Much like the process of organic certification, an inspector visits a farm and walks through the production, harvest and transport system with the producer and verifies that GAP is being used. This certification opens the doors to many produce buyers that may never have been opened otherwise. The local school system would like to be able to purchase more lettuce and produce from local farms but GAP certification is required to sell to the school system. There are only a few local certified farms. For more information on GAP, call the local N.C. Cooperative Extension at 593-8179.