By Billy Mitchell, NFU Food Safety Training Coordinator, & Tricia Wancko, NFU Food Safety Grant Coordinator
“I’m really passionate about helping to make the local food movement in Alabama successful, and I feel like that is only going to happen if we are extremely creative and cooperative,” explained Farm Food Collaborative Co-Manager Carey Martin-Lane at a recent “Farm to Food Opportunity: Growing Community Value Through Food Hub Operations” workshop. Geared towards local food producers, the workshop was hosted by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System with support from the West Georgia Farmers Cooperative, the Alabama Department of Agriculture and the Local Food Safety Collaborative, and offered a chance for presenters and participants to share stories and best practices of running an efficient operation while managing both financial and food safety risks. The Farm Food Collaborative, which is North Alabama’s first local food hub and operates out of the Food Bank of North Alabama, works alongside growers to find innovative ways to get their products and produce out into the world. Part of this work focuses on encouraging farmers to keep records and run lean and flexible operations to help maximize their sometimes-limited resources—all to help farmers get their food out to as many people as possible.
During the workshop, Martin-Lane not only covered these concepts, but also answered questions from both an in-person audience and those attending virtually via Facebook Live about the collaborative’s experiences working with growers. Each year, the Farm Food Collaborative surveys its farmers to find areas where they might need help; recently, there has been a call for one-on-one food safety technical assistance. As growers have developed relationships with lots of different buyers, being able to meet a variety of food safety expectations and requirements has become ever more important. The Farm Food Collaborative provides supports farmers as they navigate the ins and outs of food safety practices, compliance with the FSMA Produce Safety Rule, and third-party audits. While meeting these different expectations and requirements could cause confusion and friction among collaborative members, Martin-Lane has been continuously impressed by their ability to navigate the challenge as a group. “Our farmers work together super well. It never ceases to amaze me how our farmers have figured out how to work together.”
Martin-Lane knows that “farmers got into farming to farm, not to do paperwork.” With food safety certification, growers found that some records can make a big difference. While the process of starting to document food safety practices can be time consuming and even a little frustrating, the added benefits beyond lowering food safety risks soon become clear. One farmer realized that record keeping saved them money—“significant money.”
As interest in farmers working cooperatively continues to grow, so does the desire to find solutions to reduce risk and increase the availability of their products in local markets.
To learn more about cooperatives, tune into National Farmers Union’s The Evolution of the Co-operative Identity webinar on June 22, 2021, at 2:00 PM EST. More information on the Farm Food Collaborative—including opportunities to volunteer with the Food Bank—can be found here. For food safety resources, please visit the Local Food Safety Collaborative website along with the Food Safety Resource Clearinghouse for a curated source of food safety guides, factsheets, templates, and more. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates on the latest food safety news.
This project website is supported by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award 1U01FD006921-01 totaling $1,000,000 with 100 percent funded by FDA/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by FDA/HHS, or the U.S. Government.
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