A Clean Food System?

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By Jeff Main of Good Humus Produce,courtesy of Capay Valley Farm Shop

capay-fruit-hands-trans Image courtesy of Capay Valley Farmshop, Capay CA

How many stories have we read about in the last five years about people around the country eating spinach, strawberries, salad mix, cantaloupe in various states, farms organic or not organic that have caused sickness to the extreme of dying from eating these raw vegetables? I can’t answer that question, I just know there are more than we have ever have seen in the last five years compared to the first thirty years of our farming career, in fact before this I can’t remember this kind of information in the news at all. (One could ask why that is?)

The consequences are many, and for the farmers it is bringing a whole new concept to what our farming occupation means. We are looking at an entire new set of regulations and in a few years potential laws about food health and safety, food handling, accountability, and tracking of the fruits and vegetables coming from our farms. In writing this, I really feel this subject is over my head as to how to describe to you what is happening, and what it means to us as small farmers. This is huge, and it will affect everybody, from large farmers to small farmers, to CSA members, farmer’s market shoppers, and to the grocery store shoppers. These rules have the ability to change our food system, the kind of food available, and the methods of growing, the farm landscape, and ultimately the food that we eat.

Image courtesy of Capay Valley Farmshop, Capay CA Image courtesy of Capay Valley Farmshop, Capay CA

Over the last two years I have gone to three workshops trying to learn what they are calling “Good Agricultural Practices” trying wrap my head around, and to begin to incorporate these potential regulations for our farm concerning Health and Safety issues.  Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) are codes, standards and regulations that have been developed in recent years by the food industry and producers organizations but also governments and NGOs, aiming to codify agricultural practices at farm level for a range of commodities. Their purpose varies from fulfillment of trade and government regulatory requirements in particular with regard to food safety and quality. It may help reduce the risk of non-compliance with national and international regulations, standards and guidelines in particular for the large food, animal and chemical factories, but the  challenges related to GAP  implementation will be for all farms of all sizes and this will  increase record keeping  and certification will increase production costs. Standards of GAP can be used to serve competing interests of specific stakeholders in agri-food supply chains by modifying supplier-buyer relations.

There is a high risk that small scale farmers will not be able to seize opportunities unless they are adequately informed, technically prepared and organized to meet this new challenge with governments and public agencies playing a facilitating role.

I have a binder of information from each of these three classes for a Farm Safety Manual that I need to put together which will include our Standard Operating Procedures. One is a nine page check list of how we need to operate, the forms we need to create, and the daily records we need to have on file in case of an audit to prove that we are daily conducting good agricultural practices. Some of the “rules” are common sense procedures for clean food handling and others are extreme practices that don’t make sense at all on a diverse farm like ours. No matter the common sense or the extreme, we have to prove we are following the rules with the daily record keeping, and fill out forms to prove that we have had employee trainings so they know all the rules.

Image courtesy of Capay Valley Farmshop, Capay CA Image courtesy of Capay Valley Farmshop, Capay CA

It feels that what these standards and regulations are doing is sending us down the road to “factory farming” where we farmers and farm workers are wearing white lab coats, with hair net, plastic gloves and face masks, where the food is grown in the sterile soil, with a sterile environment surrounding our farms. Taking us away from food harvested from soil, taking away the agricultural landscape that creates multilayered biodiversity, moving away from the natural world we live in and creating an environment that has eliminated any life in our farms and thus in our food.

With this movement to a sterile environment on many levels in many aspects of our lives; chlorinated water, antibiotics, ultra pasteurization so food will last longer on the shelves, fumigated soils, fruits and veggies washed and waxed so they can’t breathe and ripen”¦ What are we doing? With this sterilization, the question I have asked for years is: what is happening to the flora world in our bodies. I worry that what we are doing is eliminating the flora and fauna that lives in our bodies that helps fight our sickness, they are our workhorses for a healthy body.  This New York Times article from June, 2012 is the first I have read that brings forth what I have been wondering about.


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