BY RUTH BORGER
LAKE ALFRED, Fla. — A new opportunity for Florida’s small and medium-sized produce farmers will become a reality with the support of a U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety Outreach Program (FSOP) grant designed to produce and provide easy-to-access training in safe food production methods to underserved farmers. Faculty from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and Florida A&M are partnering to serve this audience with online programming that will support them being viable and competitive in the marketplace.
Florida ranks second in the nation for vegetable production, behind California, and produces 63% of the nation’s total citrus according to the Florida Agricultural Statistics Service. From 2012 to 2017, Florida continued to increase its number of small farms by 20% to 14,072 small farms, which represents 29.6% of all commercial operations per the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).
Florida remains fifth in the nation in the number of beginning farmers (31%; USDA NASS, 2019). Yet, this audience struggles to participate in educational workshops that can support their success and provide needed information on how to implement safe food production best practices into their operations.
It’s not for a lack of interest, said Michelle Danyluk, UF/IFAS professor of food science and human nutrition and one of the grant’s leaders. “Many small and beginning farmers often work off-farm to support their families and simply cannot afford the time to attend traditional day-long workshops,” said Danyluk.
According 2019 figures from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, beginning farm operators in Florida are more likely (67%) to work off the farm in addition to managing their farm than their established counterparts (45%). The need to provide workshops remotely is further heightened during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The successful completion of this community outreach project is anticipated to generate more than 20 remote learning modules and eight instructor-led webinar workshops. These materials will target underserved operators of small and medium-sized farms, beginning farmers and socially disadvantaged farmers.
These remote learning experiences will give participants a new portal to access food safety training information important for their own understanding and for use in training employees and other farm workers. They will also have an improved understanding of basic food safety principles and practices that support the production of safe food, as well as Food Safety Modernization Act compliance, through the visualization of key food safety issues discovered through video demonstrations and other presentations captured in online content and live streamed.
Specific topics include:
- Providing food safety training to employees
- Food safety recordkeeping
- Practicing Food Safety During Harvesting
- Evaluating Surface Water and Distribution Systems
- Sanitation Monitoring and Verification
The $319,273 grant is part of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Food Safety Outreach Program (FSOP) for food safety education, training, and technical assistance projects that address the needs of owners and operators of small to mid-sized farms, beginning farmers, socially-disadvantaged farmers, small processors, small fresh fruit and vegetable merchant wholesalers, food hubs, farmers’ markets, and others. FSOP helps the development of new food safety education and outreach programs in local communities and expand upon existing food safety education and outreach programs that address the needs of small, specialized audiences whose education needs have not previously been adequately addressed. FSOP helps all types of farmers and businesses have the education and tools they need to be successful and comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act.
The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.