Good Practices Bring Great Results for Small Farms

Mar 22, 2021

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By Billy Mitchell
“Camaraderie with the whole team.” 
“Much more fun!” 
“Peace of mind.” 
For most farmers, those phrases may conjure up memories of early fall picnics with staff, family, and friends after the season has slowed down. But for growers Kim Butz, Nathan Vannette, and Roberto Meza, those were the phrases that came to mind when asked how implementing good agricultural practices (GAPs) benefitted their produce farms during a recent webinar, Stories from the Field: Small Farms and GAPs Audits.
Building a good habit, though often overwhelming at first, usually gets easier as the benefits add up — like how a daily stretch to ease your back also promotes better sleep and reduces stress. Building the GAPs habit into an operation to reduce produce safety risks can be a lot for small farms to tackle at first but it tends to lead to other benefits along the way — things like increased market access, a leaner operation, and a greater sense of pride. 
Before the pandemic, 80 percent of Vanette’s sales from Growing Green Family Farms in South Carolina were direct to restaurants. When that market collapsed early in the pandemic, he upped his food safety game, organized his records, SOPs, and policies, and tackled the task of getting GAP-certified in order to find new sales outlets. Not only did he succeed in pivoting to a new market, he also found that a better organized farm “makes working so much more fun!”  
When Meza and his team at Emerald Gardens in Colorado set out to create a culture of food safety, they developed a farm food safety plan that also reflected their farm’s core values. Implementing food safety best practices improved processes and workflow on the farm, creating a “leaner,” more efficient, and more fruitful operation. It’s a new take on an old saying, “the barn reflects the farm,” meaning a clean and productive leads to clean and productive fields. 
This concept is at the heart of The Lean Farm by Ben Hartman. One of one of the most buzzed–about farm books in recent memory, it ignited a movement of small-scale growers looking to get their farms “leaned–up” and organized. It’s not just farmers in Colorado and South Carolina that are seeing the benefits of leaning an operation; responding to feedback from their nationwide membership, the National Young Farmers Coalition developed a “Lean and Clean” workshop that focused on lean and food safety practices. The first workshop sold out fast, filling a Zoom room with enthusiastic small-scale growers sharing stories and strategies to build a more productive farm using a combination of lean and produce safety systems. 
A produce safety educator with the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, Butz previously managed a 90-acre operation in rural Pennsylvania that served close to 600 CSA members and two farmers markets. She led the farm through their first Harmonized GAP Audit, working with a great team and cultivating staff buy-in to overcome challenges like writing a food safety plan and creating risk assessments. Butz found that “the hardest part was just breaking old habits.“ When they did pass the audit, “It was a huge accomplishment . . . everyone was really happy and you could see the pride in everyone.“ That sense of pride is one that is shared by small farmers across the country who have adopted GAPS on their farms — and a goal that many more continue to strive for. 
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