Marks, MS–Several members of the North Delta Produce Growers Association (NDPGA) attended a “Train the Trainer” Workshop on Friday, May 21, 2013. This event was sponsored by the Alcorn State University’s Mississippi Small Farms Development Office. Attendees participated in a 4 hour training session designed to teach Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Good Handling Practices (GHP) to those who work with small scale farmers. Topics covered included: how to avoid disease in food production, how to properly harvest food, and how to properly care for food during the growing process.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) website, GAP and GHP verify that fruits and vegetables “are produced, packaged, handled, and stored in the safest manner possible to minimize risks of microbial food safety hazards.” Although GAP and GHP are considered suggestions for good safety practices by the USDA, they are now mandated by many food supply chains throughout America.
Nicole Bell, food safety and Agribusiness specialist for Alcorn’s Mississippi Small Farm Development Office, served as the facilitator for the workshop. Bell spoke candidly about the need for local growers to be conscientious about the ways in which food is produced and harvested. Bell hopes that the twelve trainers who attended the workshop will take the information back to their local farmers and that local farmers will make more informed decisions regarding best practices.
NDPGA members are doing just that.
Armed with a certificate of completion and the knowledge gained from the GAP and GHP workshop, several members of NDPGA are taking their knowledge about capacity building and good farming practices to local farmers.
Kerrex Taylor, a NDPGA member states, “There was a wealth of good information presented at this workshop. I meet with local produce growers regularly and its been a real blessing to be able to share GAP and GHP information with them and to see the changes they are making in their production as a result of being exposed to this type of knowledge. This information is not only important because it affects growers’ growing power, but it also impacts our health in terms of food safety.”
Taylor further describes the benefits of attending the workshop. “Growers need to be aware of the do’s and don’ts of food production. Ms. Bell mentioned several important tips for farmers, such as ‘all produce must be covered in order to bring it to a process facility’ and ‘municipal water is the safest water source to use in crop production.’ Such information may not be common knowledge to all farmers. However, now we can share this information with them and show them how to be in compliance with GAP and GHP regulations.”
In addition to carrying out individual sessions with farmers, Charles Houston, a NDPGA board member and workshop attendee, discusses the need to have large scale workshops with farmers.
Houston explains, “Our goal at NDPGA is to make sure our producers build to capacity and are equipped with the resources and knowledge to be successful. We want to make sure that our growers can make that goal a reality. Therefore, throughout the next couple of months, we will be hosting a series of workshops for farmers and the public in various locales to ensure that they [local growers] are aware of the resources available to them as well as the best farming practices out there. This training is our way of making sure that we have as much information as possible to help our growers become more productive.”
NDPGA plans to have its first GAP and GHP workshop in mid-June. The four members who attended the workshop were Tony Mason, Kerrex Taylor, Charles Houston, and Dietrich Johnson. Summer intern Hope Crenshaw also attended the event.