Sunday, August 31, 2014

We got Audited!

GAP audited that is.

GAP stands for good agricultural practices. GAP is a voluntary USDA inspection/certification program for farms that want proof they follow reasonable food safety protocols when growing and harvesting produce.

It's kind of a pain in the butt.

This is the cover page of our GAP log book. All those tabs
indicate logs we must fill out or on-farm food safety policies we
need to be aware of as we work.

The audit process is less an inspection of our farm, than an inspection of our log book, which is, you know, not fun. So why did we do it?

Well, GAP certification is a valuable thing for a farmer that wants to sell to institutional customers like schools, hospitals, grocery stores and restaurants. See, the farm to table movement is awesome for bringing local food to individual farmers market or CSA customers, but, while every consumer wants to buy the healthiest food possible (for both their body and their community) not every consumer is able to buy all of their food directly from a farmer or has the opportunity to tour every farm they are interested in buying from to ensure appropriate farming practices are followed.

Getting local food in every mouth in the community means small farms need to make institutional sales and local produce processing facilities need to exist. Farmers can't sit back and expect the world around us to change in a way that brings every hungry person directly to us, we need to change the world ourselves by jumping on to the path that leads to every table in our region.

Sometimes that path looks strange to idealistic farmers. Right now it's mainly tread by large agribusinesses that aren't concerned with producing food that increases the health of the land, local economies, or even the people that eat the food. But it doesn't have to be that way. The path isn't the problem, and it is possible for small farms to take it.

GAP certification is, for us, one of the many steps we can take to boost ourselves onto that path. It's also a part of keeping our farm open to our community and making our farming practices and goals obvious to anyone curious about them. The certification isn't anything like a member work day that brings CSA families out to our farm where they can learn how we farm by helping us do it. The certification is proof that we are using appropriate farming practices, so that the local school cafeteria manager can feel confident purchasing our produce. It just isn't possible for the average cafeteria manager to come spend a day on the farm.

One of the best things about our GAP certification process is that it has been a local process. There have been no anonymous "they" type auditors swooping onto our farm to tell us what we can and can't do. We have been fortunate to be a part of the Group GAP program via the U.P. Food Exchange. That's meant our experience with the GAP certification process (however frustrating it might be) has involved discussing appropriate farm practices and even pooling resources with other farmers in the region. The majority of the farm visits (including our audit) have been done by people we know and trust. People we were already partnering with to bring healthy food to our community.

People like Denina Kaunonen (from the Keweenaw Co-op) and Neal Curran
(from the Marquette Co-op). They're the lucky ones who got to wade
through my log book at audit time.

In the end a handful of the farms that are part of this Group GAP group will be audited by USDA inspectors, to ensure that we have developed appropriate standards as a group. And that's it. The rest is all about self regulation, teamwork, and trust between the farmers and other partners that have chosen to be a part of this Group GAP program.

So, while it's true that log books themselves will never be bucolic, our GAP audit was a valuable part of building the healthy rural community we're a part of. That's why we did it.

And the GAP auditors did have a chance to bring their
clipboards out for a little fresh air.

1 comment:

  1. Way to go, Neal, Denina, Andrea and Scott. Together, we can make a difference.