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Training promotes highly desirable produce production

March 2nd, 2018

By Doug LeDuc | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

Two days of this year’s Local Food Week in Fort Wayne will be dedicated to helping northeast Indiana’s fruit and vegetable growers achieve their potential as highly desired sources of fresh produce.

The Plowshares Project has scheduled free farmer training for that purpose from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 13 and 14 at the classic ballroom in the Walb Student Union Building of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, 2101 Coliseum Blvd. E. in Fort Wayne. The first day of training is focused on “Wholesale Success: The Business of Scaling Up,” and the second day is focused on “Food Safety: Jump Start Your Food Safety System With a High Priority Checklist.”

The goal is to get northeast Indiana consumers better access to fresher, higher-quality fruits and vegetables, and to help the region’s economy grow by getting its produce dollars to rural neighbors instead of far-away farm corporations in Florida and California.

The training is “not just for established produce growers,” said Jain Young, who organized the training.

“If there are traditional corn and soybean farmers who might be thinking about going into produce, it’s for them as well,” she said. “It’s also good for people who do direct market, such as farmers market sales.”

Meeting the needs of produce buyers in a way that supports their values is fundamental to the creation of healthy, long-term business relationships, and an announcement explaining the training said it is important to understand who the customers are and what motivates them.

Maintaining good relationships requires communication and attention to details from contracts, pricing, demand trends and sequential planting to quality control, bunch sizes, labels, and lot codes, it said.

Specialty crop wholesale success training will be presented the first day by Atina Diffley, an organic farmer who authored the 2012 award-winning memoir, “Turn Here Sweetcorn: Organic Farming Works.”

Part of the instruction explains how to find wholesale buyers, understand their needs and ramp up fruit and vegetable production to meet their requirements.

“It’s good training for anyone interested in going wholesale,” Young said.

The second day of training is designed to help northeast Indiana farms of all sizes comply with the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act, which became law in 2016.

The act established water-testing requirements for operations that sell more than $25,000 of produce annually. Compliance deadlines vary, based on sales volume, with the smallest farms covered by the act receiving the most time.

The act also establishes food-safety requirements for a variety farm-operation activities and requires some produce farmers to do on-farm safety certifications.

“There are a lot of exemptions,” Young said. “But, even though you might be exempt from being certified, you’re never exempt from liability.”

State-of-the-art equipment is not required for a food-safety mindset and the announcement explaining the training said putting some high-priority practices in place is a good way to jump-start development of a food-safety system.

This workshop will discuss key areas of food safety and scale-appropriate ways to minimize risk and embed safe practices into your daily operations. The instruction also may satisfy some Food Safety Modernization Act staff training requirements.

A free food-safety binder for each farm registered for the second day of training will include food-safety plan templates, which can be customized to suit conditions on a specific farm, as well as food-safety action plans.

Each farm registered for the first day of training will receive a free copy of “Wholesale Success,” a manual of more than 300 pages covering best practices for local food marketing, packing, post harvest handling and safety, with crop-specific profiles for more than 100 crops.

Costs for the Specialty Crop Wholesale Success & Food Safety Training is offset by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Registration can be done through Eventbright. The cost is $30 plus a $2.23 service fee for the two-day training and includes lunch and snacks.

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