What do Spring and interns have in common? Both arrive every year, bringing new energy and a fresh, vibrant perspective. Our interns make a lasting impact on the work we do and they help to further our mission of supporting family farmers across the country through food safety outreach, education and training. In this blog post, Kira Zimmerman reflects on her Spring semester internship with the Local Food Safety Collaborative at National Farmers Union.
By Kira Zimmerman, Intern, Local Food Safety Collaborative and National Farmers Union
I began interning with the Local Food Safety Collaborative (LFSC) at National Farmers Union (NFU) in early January, and as my time with this organization comes to an end I would like to reflect a little on what I’ve accomplished and what I’ve learned.
With a background in Law and Criminology from American University, I knew almost nothing about produce safety aside from distant memories of some high school FFA horticulture classes. Growing up on my family’s goat farm in rural Maryland, I had little to no experience growing produce, so I thought this sort of thing had nothing to do with me. Right?
Through my work with LFSC, I have realized that food safety matters to everyone, from the small backyard farmer to the large commercial producer, and to the customer purchasing a few apples at a farmer’s market. Everyone is impacted by the food safety practices of produce growers. The Local Food Safety Collaborative prioritizes working with small fruit and vegetable farmers to ensure they have access to the education, information, training and tools they need to keep produce safe and build a healthy business too.
I had the opportunity to attend a PSA Grower Training at the 117th NFU Annual Convention in Bellevue, Washington. I was able to meet growers from diverse backgrounds and learn how they intend to improve their Food Safety Plans after receiving the training. This experience opened my eyes to the incredible impact LFSC has made. Since 2016, LFSC has facilitated over 80 PSA Grower Trainings to over 1,500 growers across 28 states. That’s 1,500 people representing 1,500 farms who are growing food with the tools and knowledge necessary to keep their produce safe for consumers.
I also attended a Food and Drug Administration meeting on mitigation strategies to protect food against intentional adulteration, also known as bio-terrorism. While mostly large organizations from the food industry attended, I think it is important for small growers to know how to keep their farms secure from threats. Prior to attending this meeting, I did not realize how seamlessly the realms of national security and agriculture converged. Our food supply might be more vulnerable than we think. I quickly realized that my major in Law and Criminology and passion for agriculture were more intertwined than I had initially thought.
Throughout this internship, I wrote about family farmers who are striving to feed the hungry and inform the public of the food safety practices they are implementing on their farms (you can check it out here). From the people I met, I learned that the farmers LFSC is working with care deeply about providing fruit and vegetables that are safe to eat to the consumer. Not only that, but these folks are also eating the food they’re growing! In the end, all of us want to be sure that our food is safe to eat and that means we all have a vested interest in understanding food safety standards.
One of my primary projects consisted of creating a shared calendar documenting hundreds of farm conferences, food safety events, and trainings that will be used by LFSC staff to connect with fruit and vegetable growers across the nation. I also kept the Resources page of the LFSC website up to date with accurate information so that it can continue to be a helpful tool for growers looking for local or region-specific resources.
I am thankful that my efforts with LFSC are contributing to something that will positively impact our nation’s produce growers and I look forward to pursuing a career that incorporates both my degree and my passion for agriculture. With 1 in 10 people across the world falling ill every year from contaminated food, I think it’s important to keep food safety a priority in an increasingly connected world.
Above all, I am grateful for the unsung heroes- small, family farmers- who work hard to keep our food safe and healthy. Thank you.
Kira is a senior at American University in Washington, D.C. After graduation in May, she plans to work in the Intelligence field with a focus on agricultural policy.
Interested in applying for an internship with National Farmers Union? Check out the opportunities here.