The Wallace Center at Winrock International was recently recognized for its efforts to make wholesale markets more accessible to producers of all sizes—opening new doors and creating fresh growth opportunities for America’s small and mid-sized farmers.
At the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit in Atlanta last month, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary Ed Avalos presented Wallace staff with a certificate of appreciation for supporting the GroupGAP Pilot Program, a collaboration between USDA and the Wallace Center, with funding contributed by the Walmart Foundation.
So, what is GroupGAP? With USDA’s Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) audit program, producers can demonstrate that they are following industry food safety standards. For most small and mid-sized farmers and producers in the U.S., attaining food safety certification has been cost-prohibitive, even when those producers are already adhering to stringent safety standards. That leaves wholesale and institutional markets largely off limits because they require producers to be certified.
Under the GroupGAP audit program, smaller farmers and producers can organize as a collective, within a food hub for example, creating a food safety system and sharing the costs to attain GAP certification as a group. Producers benefit from accessing new markets to sell their produce—such as wholesalers who supply hotels, restaurants and large chain groceries. Buyers benefit from the increased availability of local and regional produce, and the assurance that the food they are eating has passed market-demanded safety inspections.
“Without third party certification, it is difficult for small to mid-size farmers to articulate their on-farm food safety practices to the buying community – even when their methods and products are already healthy and perfectly safe,” said Wallace Director John Fisk. “That difficulty creates a real barrier keeping farms from accessing larger markets. We believe the GroupGAP program can help remove that barrier.”
USDA will officially roll out the GroupGAP Audit Program in the spring.