Jefferson County Ag. Update - Farm Certification
January 31, 2023
A farm certification is often something producers think about, but don’t follow through with. There are a multitude of certifications available for agricultural producers, both government provided and private. Most certifications are thought of as marketing tools, but the requirements that come with using them often require holistic planning and even operational change. Making the decision to become certified is very personal to each operation, and is often predicated by the needs of your customer. A certification may not be a need for every farm, however, the steps to becoming certified, and keep your certification, can often help keep your operation running smooth and efficient.
For farms looking to sell wholesale or institutionally, more and more buyers are requiring certification. Good Agricultural Practices Certification is a USDA led initiative that is centered around food safety. GAP Certification comes at a few different levels, with each becoming more involved as you move up the ladder. This program requires a written food safety plan and Standard Operating Procedures for every aspect of your operation. Once your plans are written and procedures worked out, you apply them to your farm and prepare for a GAP audit. WV has 1 GAP auditor who visits farms annually and checks all documentation, and makes sure you are following the plans you have written. If approved, you are entered into a searchable USDA database. A GAP audit is not free; however, the WVDA has a program that reimburses the cost of an audit annually.
Jefferson County is home to 1 GAP certified producer, Appalachian Greens. This producer grows and markets microgreens across a vast variety of buyers, most of which require a GAP certification. Appalachian Greens grows based on negotiated contracts with these buyers, and occasionally to the general public. According to Sergio Santiago, one of the owners of Appalachian Greens, the GAP certification processes pointed out inefficiencies in their operation, and gave them the chance to correct them. As they planned out their operation, keeping the day-to-day growing process efficient helped keep their Standard Operating Procedures easier to understand, and makes for a smoother audit every year.
One of the things Appalachian Greens recommend to farms considering a GAP certification is to automate your recordkeeping as much as possible. Appalachian Greens uses Google products to keep data in the cloud, and track production, sales, and inventory. They also use a cloud based accounting software to generate invoices and accept check payment from their customers. Using these programs helps keep the paperwork burden to a minimum, and providing documentation to the inspector is a simple as sending an email. Appalachian Greens noted that if it weren’t for automating as much of their records as possible, keeping paper records would be a cumbersome task.
Certification isn’t for everyone. Since most are considered marketing tools, you have to know whether your customer wants, needs, or requires a certification to accept products from you. If you do seek a certification, make sure to use the process as an opportunity to dive deep into your operation, and take care of some inefficiencies you may have. If you have questions about certification or need help starting the process, feel free to reach out to the JCDA. We are happy to help!