Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and the Northeast Iowa farm cooperative GROWN Locally have developed a Grower’s Manual to help local food cooperatives improve their handling practices and meet food-safety standards.
The 24-page Grower’s Manual describes requirements for personnel procedures, general handling, cleaning, sanitizing, packaging, labeling and transporting, and offers information for planning a mock recall. It also includes detailed tables that describe how to prepare and package a variety of crops.
Available online, the manual was originally developed by GROWN Locally to establish standards for pre- and post-harvest handling and to meet the specifications of local food-service establishments. The Leopold Center revised and expanded the manual for other farm cooperatives to use as a model.
“We have already had some inquiries from producer groups regarding this manual,” says Craig Chase, Leopold Center Marketing and Food Systems Initiative leader, after the manual’s release at the end of October 2011. “It will allow new groups to adapt this resource to their particular needs rather than create one from scratch.”
Although locally produced foods are becoming a more mainstream desire for consumers, locally grown food accounts for only a small segment of U.S. agriculture, according to the report “Direct and Intermediated Marketing of Local Foods in the United States” released by the USDA’s Economic Research Service. However, in 2008, small farms (with less than $50,000 in gross annual sales) accounted for 81 percent of all farms reporting local sales. In these cases, vegetable, fruit and nut farms dominated local food sales.
Farm cooperatives might decide to adopt the manual’s recommendations to help them meet voluntary standards set by the USDA’s Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices guidelines. Farms and facilities that pass a GAP or GHP audit and become certified are recognized for food-safety practices that minimize risk.