October 23, 2018
Deadlines and inspection dates are coming up soon for many producers and business owners who need to comply with new requirements under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Even for farmers who are exempt from FSMA requirements, private buyers often require some form of third-party food safety certification. The Food Safety Outreach Program (FSOP) helps farmers and business owners meet these regulatory and market demands by supporting food safety training, education, and technical assistance across the country. Last week, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced FSOP awards for fiscal year (FY) 2018.
In FSMA, Congress mandated that FSOP grant awards prioritize projects focusing on small and medium-sized farms, beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, small processors, and small fresh fruit and vegetable merchant wholesalers. This prioritization is crucial because these producers are disproportionately impacted, both directly and indirectly, by FSMA. By targeting outreach to these groups, FSOP helps to ensure that food safety trainings, outreach, and education are applicable to the size, cultural traditions, and business types of those they serve. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) was pleased to see that a number of these awards, including three NSAC member projects, focused on this priority audience.
FSOP is a competitive grants program that helps community-based organizations, non-governmental organizations, and other local groups to create innovative outreach and training programs to help farmers and small food processors prepare for and adapt to new food safety requirements. Grant recipients are expected to coordinate their activities with the four Regional Centers for FSMA Training. FSOP was first funded in FY 2015, thanks in part to advocacy by NSAC and our members. Following a successful advocacy campaign in FY 2016, the program received a 100 percent increase in funds for projects focused directly on farmer training. Congress provided an additional 40 percent increase in funding in FY 2018.
In the FY 2018 round of awards, three types of outreach strategies were funded:
NSAC would like to congratulate this year’s FSOP grant recipients, especially the three NSAC member organizations that received awards this cycle.
“Over the last decade CAFF has collaborated with small farmers to provide them tailored food safety technical assistance that fits the unique needs of their operation,” said Kali Feiereisel, Food Safety Specialist at CAFF. “This newly funded project will continue to build upon that work and relationships by providing a comprehensive set of free food safety trainings to incubator and beginning farmers around the state, in addition to webinars, and 1-on-1 farm visits. One unique aspect of the project we are really excited about is the new, CAFF Partner Farm program. We will partner with five farms across the state and over the two years guide those farmers through improving their on-farm food safety practices. Near the end of the program each of the farms will host a field day open to all farmers and agricultural professionals in the area as an opportunity to learn from another farmer about food safety in a hands-on, practical way.”
“Our project has a three tiered approach with different education, trainings, and technical assistance for each producer, depending on where they fall on the food safety continuum,” explained Benjamin Bartley, Value Chain Specialist at La Montañita, “For example, not every producer will need to complete all three tiers because some producers may already have received a third party audit, while others may have little to no food safety knowledge. The three-tier approach is designed so that, depending on the operations’ needs, producers will develop competency with regards to the learning objectives of all three tiers. This grant will allow us to expand our tiered trainings beyond New Mexico, where La Montañita’s been developing this curriculum for the last four years, to include Arizona, Utah, and Colorado. Growers will range from direct-to-consumer growers (Tier I and II) to growers preparing for third party audits and FSMA preparedness (Tier III). We’re also partnering with La Semilla Food Center in Southern NM to help translate and adapt the curriculum to better serve Spanish-speaking growers.”
“ALBA is thrilled to receive funding through NIFA’s Food Safety Outreach Competitive Grants Program, said Patricia Carrillo, Executive Director. “The ‘Latino Immigrant Farm-owner Education on Food Safety (LIFE)’ project goal is to provide hands-on food safety training, technical assistance to underserved, hard to reach audiences on California’s central coast. This funding will strengthen ALBA’s capacity to provide food safety assistance to underserved farms.”
As many as 100,000 farms could potentially be impacted by the new FSMA regulations this year. Even for farms that are exempt from FSMA, buyer food safety requirements can impact access to markets. Though NSAC was proud of a hard-fought victory to boost FSOP funding by 40 percent in FY 2018, only a fraction of impacted producers can be reached through FSOP-funded projects at current levels. Without training resources available for producers and processors, the final FDA regulations will ultimately hurt farmers and fall far short of the goal of improving food safety. For FY 2019, the Senate-passed agriculture appropriations bill includes a modest increase to $8 million for FSOP. The House-passed bill, however, would cut FSOP funding back down to FY 2016 levels, despite the fact that additional trainings will be required nationwide as FSMA inspections roll out. NSAC advocates for food safety training to remain a congressional priority, and supports the Senate’s higher funding level for FSOP in FY 2019. We are also advocating for an expansion of the annual funds provided for FSOP in the farm bill.