By Billy Mitchell, NFU Food Safety Training Coordinator

Lowering produce safety risks. Growing great food. Building community.

Growers and service providers have a long list of top priorities. The voluntary Community Accreditation for Produce Safety (CAPS) program of the Vermont Vegetable and Berry Growers’ Association—with operation coordinated by University of Vermont (UVM) Extension—aims to help growers adopt best practices for produce safety and ensure those practices create an environment for growing great food and building community between growers, buyers, and service providers. Using an online platform combined with intensive technical support, CAPS began as a pilot with 22 farms in 2015 to help small and medium-scale farmers meet market expectations and comply with the intent of the Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Safety Rule (FSMA PSR). The number of farms participating in 2021 is expected to grow to around 155, with many not covered by the FSMA PSR but still wanting to meet those standards.

Hans Estrin, Produce Safety Accreditation Program Coordinator at University of Vermont Extension, has been working alongside growers to help implement the program. For Estrin, the community focus of the program helps meet the goals of building market integrity and reducing produce safety risks. It allows the growers to “make good systems and promote efficiency.” Estrin has found that with produce safety practices, “growers already know most of these things,” but they may benefit from an assist in improving their systems or tackling some of the record keeping or technical aspects of meeting produce safety requirements—from employee training to sanitizer usage. The program has also fostered an environment for the University of Vermont team to teach and learn from growers and for growers to teach and learn from each other. Angus Baldwin, of West Farm in Jeffersonville, VT, says that “Hans and his team have built something that engages growers in a positive way and supports them.”

Joie Lehouillier, of Foote Brook Farm in Johnson, VT, has also found the CAPS program to be a great resource. Lehouillier, whose farm grows an abundance of produce—“from artichokes to zucchini”—shared that “It’s a huge help to have a group of people that can look at your situation and help you improve it.” The program gives their farm a chance to learn from other farms, which is a big benefit. “Even though every farm is different, you can look at what they’re doing, learn from that, and implement it.” Baldwin finds similar benefits and appreciates that “You can climb on the shoulders of those that came before you,” and, through that process, become a better farm.

To learn more about the CAPS program, please visit their website and check out this recording of the most recent Local Food Safety Collaborative Stories from the Field webinar. 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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