Warren County farmers garner USDA certifications

Jul. 23, 2013 @ 06:42 PM

WARRENTON — Three Warren County farmers have received U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Good Agricultural Practices certification for their products.

Jeff Bender of Bender Farms, Reggie Stevenson of Stevenson Farms and Victor Hunt of Hunt’s Farm received GAP certification for their cabbage and collard crops.

Their certifications were the first received by farmers in Warren County.

The GAP program was created to ensure appropriate food safety practices for fresh fruits and vegetables. GAP certification is required by many wholesale buyers. Obtaining this certification can open new markets for the local farmers.

Working Landscapes and the Warren County Cooperative Extension provided technical assistance to the farmers in preparing their applications for GAP certification. FoodCorps service member Caroline Stover was part of the technical assistance team.

Susan Sandford, of Working Landscapes, said farmers were assisted in developing safety plans that included a description of procedures for sanitizing equipment, protecting fields from pollution by animals and guaranteeing worker hygiene.

The first crops produced by the farmers were cabbage and collards.

The GAP-certified produce will be processed at the Working Landscapes produce center at 221 W. Franklin Street and sold to local school systems.

“It’s a way of getting healthy, nutritious food into students’ diets,” Sandford said. She believes the project also has an educational impact on students.

“It helps them connect where their food comes from,” Sandford said.

In addition to the advantages the project has for the farmers, Sandford said consumers and the local economy also benefit. Consumers can get fresh produce, she said, and the money they spend recirculates in the local economy.

“This project has had a tremendous impact on individual farmers and the county as a whole,” Hunt said. “If we are able to grow produce, add value to it, and consume it in the county, it’s a win-win for everyone.”

As the project continues, Working Landscapes plans to include more farmers and expand into additional local and regional markets.

The initiative was supported by funds from the Blue Cross/Blue Shield of N.C. Foundation.

Working Landscapes is a Warren County non-profit corporation devoted to creating more sustainable livelihoods for people in the Warren Co. region through stewardship of natural and cultural assets.

Schools or farmers interested in learning more about the program can contact Carla Norwood by email at carla.m.norwood@gmail.com or by telephone at (252) 275-0205, or by visiting the website workinglandscapesnc.org.

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.