Partnership Spotlight 3: Virginia Farm to School (F2S) Efforts

Some children participants at Families, Food, and Fun after-school program

For many years, the whole farm to fork movement, and the increased demand for children to have access to more fresh fruits and vegetables, and healthier lifestyles, have propelled great strides in the National Farm to School movement.  Collaborations between Virginia Cooperative Extension and folks working on various Farm to School efforts in Virginia are nothing new.  For example, lots of work has been done with the Family Nutrition Program in public schools, such as programs like “Families, Food, and Fun”–a partnership with Harrisonburg City Schools and VCE–in which some of the food used for cooking on site highlighted locally sourced produce and meats.  There are many other similar initiatives, too numerous to mention here.

More recently, the Fresh Produce Food Safety Team has been partnering with the Virginia Department of Education Farm to School program, working closely with F2S specialist Trista Grigsby.  A series of eight regional meetings were held around the state in February and March, 2018.  These meetings included an overview on food safety, procurement, and delivery/ distribution issues.  A key part of these interactive meetings was to develop networks and establish a roadmap for next steps in the Virginia F2S movement.  Participants ranged from school cafeteria and nutrition directors and school affiliated program leads, to recycling program directors, distributors, food hubs, farmers, non-profit groups, and other folks working with regional food systems.

One of eight regional kickoff meetings held in Virginia in February 2018, in which Trista Grigsby enthusiastically engaged key stakeholders to develop a vision for increasing access to more locally-grown foods in schools
Procurement talk sharing how ingredients can be locally sourced and used in breakfast, lunch, and after-school programs

Another outcome of the regional meetings, was that relationships among participants, both old and new, were fostered.  In fact, a direct outcome was a collaboration with FRESH and VCE-Fauquier.   FRESH (Fauquier Reaches for Excellence in School Health) is a county-wide program to create a culture of health and wellness for students, staff and the community. The program is funded by a grant from the PATH Foundation, and focuses on creating positive and healthy changes in classrooms, cafeterias, after-school settings, and within the community.

In August, FRESH held a Farm to School Food Safety Training at Airlie Farm and Conference Center.  The training consisted of plenary sessions, along with two break-outs for Fauquier County School Nutrition Department staff.  The first breakout session, “Think Fresh and Fly”,  gave hands-on experience thinking on the fly to incorporate last minute additions of locally grown, seasonal produce into the current menu cycle with less than a day’s notice.  The second breakout session, “On farm food safety”,  gave participants an opportunity to see the farm side of ‘farm to school’ in order to help them be better prepared for the sorts of things to look for when sourcing produce locally.

Participants visiting Airlie’s Local Food Project garden as part of the second breakout session
Tim Ohlwiler, VCE-Fauquier, and I co-taught about on-farm food safety risks, including a walk around the garden and an exercise in which small groups identified risks given different scenarios.
One of the laminated photos used in the identification exercise

The training was a wonderful opportunity for staff to learn more about on-farm food safety risks, and how they can be more aware of possible contamination issues of produce they might purchase and handle.  We look so forward to our continued collaboration with Farm to School efforts in Virginia.  If you are interested in becoming involved and joining the Virginia Farm to School Network, complete this form

Partnerships Spotlight 2: Tricycle Urban Agriculture Fellowship Program

RVA’s Urban Farm on Bainbridge St & W 9th St

Tricycle Urban Agriculture  has been working with Richmond communities  since 2010, when it began Richmond’s first Urban Farm.  The work of Tricycle has not only grown literally in the size and number of its various farm and garden sites, but in its many partnerships geared to their outreach efforts around the Richmond area.  One of their successful programs is the Fellowship and Certificate program –“the first program of it’s kind designed in partnership with the USDA- Natural Resources Conservation Service.”  Each year, fellows participate in an 11-month period that includes instruction and hands-on experiences about production practices, handling, marketing,  and the unique interests of each fellow.

RVA’s Urban Farm with Richmond in background
RVA’s Urban Farm tricycle mascot

For the last two years, Laura Strawn and I have been asked to come to teach the fellows about on-farm food safety risks and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP).  For Laura and I, this has been one of the highlights of our annual teaching together!   We typically provide an overview of how to assess risks–either in the classroom or on the farm, followed by an on-farm walk to provide lots of opportunities for questions and answers related to risks, GAP, monitoring, corrective actions, and documentation.

Laura teaching about on-farm risks and how to identify them on the farm
Fellows in break-out groups assessing risks for different scenarios

Between 2017 and 2018, we were impressed by the way Tricycle’s RVA Urban Farm had incorporated many changes  based on our walk through, including a covered packing area with stainless steel tables, and also the growth of the farm in terms of infrastructure and planting areas.

New covered packing area in front of walk-in cooler
Newer planting area on upper part of the farm

The relationship with Tricycle Urban Agriculture has been a rewarding one for all of us, especially knowing the fellows are learning about on-farm food safety so as to best equip them in whatever their future farming-related endeavors are.  Our training demonstrates how our team is taking bigger picture, on-farm food safety principles and applying them to different situations such as urban farm settings.  Our partnership also has helped us to better understand unique challenges facing our varied stakeholders and discussing possible solutions together.  We look very forward to more opportunities to work with Tricycle Urban Agriculture in the future!

Partnerships Spotlight 1: The Conservation Fund and FRESHFARM Market

To follow up on the August 16, 2018 post, I wanted to start with some work we have been doing with The Conservation Fund and FRESHFARM Markets since early 2016.  The Conservation Fund (CF) and FRESHFARM Markets  (FFM) obtained funding from the USDA to provide food safety training and assistance with the GAP certification process for farms in the Mid-Atlantic region.  These folks reached out to Dr. Laura Strawn for on-the-ground educational support, Laura contacted me to team up with her and Rachel Pfuntner–her Lab manager at the time–and the rest is history!

Rachel (far left) and Laura (far right) assisting participants as they discuss their scenarios with one another.
Farm tour of the hydroponic production area at Tioga Farms.

Laura, Rachel,  and I held a class at Tioga Farms, PA, in March 2016.  The class included an overview of food safety risks and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), coupled with a breakout activity in which groups were given different farm scenarios to identify risks and GAPs.  We also had a tour of Tioga Farms greenhouse and packing area, which provided more opportunity to discuss on-farm risks at these different stages of the process.

Packaged tomatoes ready to be transported to different buyers.

As a follow-up to this workshop, growers were put into touch with their state extension service agencies.  Additionally, Laura, Rachel, and I were asked to conduct a similar workshop in northern Virginia.   Collaborating with CF, FFM, and our local VCE-Loudoun County colleague, Beth Sastre, we held a workshop in November 2016.  We had a great turn-out, and similar to the previous workshop, we taught about risks, GAPs, and working through the GAP certification process.

Participants working through their assigned scenario to identify specific risks and possible GAPs to mitigate those risks.

Subsequent to the second workshop, Beth and I traveled to Washington, D.C. , to visit with some of the participants from the November workshop and provide further guidance on the GAP certification process.  We visited Common Good City Farm and Little Wild Things Farm.  It was an amazing time of seeing what folks are doing in the urban farm scene!

Common Good City Farm.
Little Wild Things Farm microgreens.
Little Wild Things Farm harvesting edible flowers to be sold to high-end D.C. restaurants.

Just recently, I went to Garners Produce in Warsaw, VA.  Bernard and Dana Boyle were wonderful hosts, and shared about their farm and practices, while I led the group on a farm walk-through demonstrating the risk assessment process.  The purpose of the on-farm visit was to share with FRESHFARM Market staff some of the food safety challenges farmers face and to highlight one of their participant farms at their markets in D.C.  Click here to learn more about Garners Produce, the farm visit, and the larger project.

Amber discussing risks in the packing shed area. ©The Conservation Fund
Peg Kohring from The Conservation Fund, who traveled to Virginia from MI. ©The Conservation Fund
FRESHFARM Market staff with Bernard and Dana Boyle after we finished the farm walk through. ©The Conservation Fund.

Thank you to The Conservation Fund and FRESHFARM Market for inviting us to collaborate and be a part of the great work they are doing.  By partnering together, the Fresh Produce Food Safety Team was able to assist and support them and their growers, while at the same time develop more networks in our broader food safety outreach efforts in the region.  We are already discussing some ways we can collaborate on future projects, and we look forward to the possibilities!

Partnerships are a Vital Part of the Work of the Virginia Fresh Produce Food Safety Team

On-farm Risk Assessment at Garner’s Produce in Warsaw, VA, along with VCE-Westmoreland, Conservation Fund, and FRESHFARM Market Staff. ©The Conservation Fund

Like all the efforts within Virginia Cooperative Extension, a critical component of the work of the Virginia Fresh Produce Food Safety Team is fostering and strengthening relationships with our many stakeholders.  It is within these valued relationships that we can discuss and better understand the felt and expressed needs of the various communities in which we live, and can together find the most strategic ways to tackle the issues and help address these needs.

Sometimes, the issues represent broader-based societal concerns that are challenging to remedy.  Other times, the needs may be more related to finding ways to take complex information and skills, and to distill it down into understandable resources, applied practices, and more easy-to-follow approaches.  Again, a fundamental part of being successful is working side by side with a diversity of partners–individuals, farms, community groups, market outlets, school and university systems, state and federal agencies, non-profit groups, etc..

In the next several blog posts, we wanted to share about some of those wonderful partnerships, so we can highlight several of the projects we are actively a part of and the ways we are working together for the common good!

Virginia Farm to School 2018 Survey of Producers

In a previous blog post  we shared about our with a USDA-funded project with Virginia DOE and Farm to School.  We mentioned about an upcoming survey for producers.  Well, here it is!!!  Please consider filling this survey out if you are a Virginia Producer.  Thanks!!!

Chesapeake Foodshed Network Food Safety Webinars, April 9 and 10, 2018

There’s a great deal of work happening in the Mid-Atlantic to get more locally grown and raised food onto store shelves, into school meals, hospital cafeterias, etc. Farmers, food hubs, distributors, state departments of agriculture, local food advocates, and many more, continue to address barriers, and to test solutions, for broadening wholesale market opportunities for local food. At the same time, food safety federal regulations are changing, requiring a higher level of time and investment on farms selling into wholesale market channels to comply with new requirements. Adding to the confusion, not all buyers have the same requirements.

This two-part series, co-sponsored by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government’s Local Food Distribution Work Group and the Chesapeake Farm to Institution Work Group (a partnership of Healthcare Without Harm and the Chesapeake Foodshed Network), will feature expert panelists, respondents (including farmers), and time for discussion. We will explore the basics of food safety laws impacting fruit and vegetable farmers, food hubs, and distributors – what are the new rules, when will they go into effect, what (broad) changes do they require for farms and facilities to come into compliance.  We will then explore more in-depth what the wholesale marketplace requires with respect to these rules and how local government, extension services, food hubs, and nonprofits have been working with farmers to help them obtain required certification.

To register for this free webinar or learn more, please visit:[UNIQID]

Virginia Farm to School Project Seeks to Increase Locally Sourced Foods in Public Schools

A growing number of schools are gradually transitioning from pre-made foods to more fresh, scratch cooked options.  Given the emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables, there is an opportunity for local growers to  gain greater access to public school systems.  According to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), there are currently 1,822 K-12 schools in Virginia as of the 2017-2018 school year. The USDA has been encouraging school districts to use locally-produced foods in school meals and to use “farm-to-school” activities to spark students’ interest in trying new foods. In an article published by NPR, they mentioned that more than a third—36 percent—of U.S school districts reported serving local foods in the 2011-12 or 2012-13 school years.  Buying local became more feasible with federal legislation that passed in 2008 as well as 2010, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture created the Farm to School program to get more healthful food in schools and link smaller U.S. farmers with a steady market of lunchrooms.

While Farm to School efforts in Virginia are certainly not new, the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) recently received a USDA Farm to School Grant and is working with the National Farm to School Network and many Virginia partners to promote and increase the local sourcing of foods in Virginia public school systems.  One of the early efforts of this project is creating a road map from farm to school in which school nutrition professionals, farmers, distributors, produce company representatives, and anyone interested in Farm to School will come together help develop a common vision for how to increase access to fresh, healthy, locally grown food in schools.  VDOE is holding 8 Regional Farm to School Network Kickoff Meetings across the Commonwealth in February and March.

This work will help VDOE and all the many partners involved to chart the course for next steps in Virginia.  VCE is integrally involved in this wonderful effort and is collaborating with the regional meetings, as well as a Farm to School Survey that will build on a previous Farm to School survey conducted in 2010.  For more information on the regional meetings, please see the event section of the blog.

Welcome to the Virginia Fresh Produce Food Safety Blog!

Foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States and abroad continue to make the news.  Regardless of whether it is fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, animal products or fish, or packaged products, the on-going incidence of contaminated food has resulted in a demand for food safety assurance and increasing regulation in the farm to fork continuum.  While there is no way to completely eliminate all of the potential risks of microbial contamination, there are many food safety practices growers, food handlers, and consumers can implement to reduce risks.

We are excited to share about the Virginia Fresh Produce Food Safety Team and our many efforts in the Commonwealth and elsewhere.  We will feature regular news stories,  as well as provide information related to upcoming events and opportunities.  Make sure to regularly check out our Blog calendar of trainings and other happenings related to produce food safety.

This blog is closely linked to our comprehensive website,, which provides lots of information about the Fresh Produce Food Safety Team, as well as timely and science-based resources geared to reducing fresh produce contamination risks, beginning at the farm level, progressing through the market-place to the final end-user, the consumer.  Whether you are a produce grower, a marketplace vendor or buyer, a home consumer, or other interested stakeholder, we invite you to explore our website and stay connected by this blog!

For more information about the Virginia Fresh Produce Food Safety Team or to contact us with any questions, email us at