Farm to Plate Producers can donate excess food
Buffalo – The Consumer Health Services, UW Extension and Wyoming Department of Agriculture are all trying to promote local foods and local economies in Wyoming and, as a result, have formed the Farm to Plate taskforce to align with that goal.
The team started out with the national program Farm to School and altered it to become Farm to Plate.
Farm to Plate
“We changed it to Farm to Plate because we didn’t want it to just be schools,” replied Brook Brockman, ag education coordinator for the Wyoming Department of Agriculture. “We also wanted to include hospitals, restaurants, grocery stores and nursing homes in the program.”
Brockman explained Farm to Plate is a program that connects schools, institutions, stores, restaurants and local producers to serve healthy meals in cafeterias and improve student’s nutrition.
The program also provides agriculture, health and nutrition education opportunities for everyone and supports local and regional producers, all while fostering an emphasis on where food comes from and who grows it.
“We’re looking at nutrition, and how sad is it when the government is trying to tell us how to eat?” stated Brockman. “We need to get our kids back involved with the community.”
The mission of the Farm to Plate is to provide a consistent and unified foundation for their stakeholders to include producers, consumers, retailers, schools and all other parties interested in quality local foods.
“Everybody needs to know that our life is agriculture,” said Brockman. “The goals of the program is to increase statewide support for Wyoming Farm to Plate and improve communications between local Wyoming Farm to Plate stakeholders.”
The most important goal Brockman stated is to promote local, quality and nutritious food and to support local producers and rural economies.
Brockman further stated, local foods must come back to areas where they were grown. The typical food item in the U.S. travels 1,500 to 2,400 miles from where it was produced to the plate where it is consumed.
“One of the things people say when they are selling locally is that they can’t,” stated Brockman. “People say they don’t know the rules, that producers and schools won’t talk to them and that they can’t sell locally. This is wrong.”
Brockman and the taskforce created some talking points to help people address issues with donating and accepting food. The talking points can be located on the Wyoming Farm to School website.
The taskforce has also partnered with Wyoming Farmers’ Marketing Association and the Wyoming Buy Fresh and Buy Local program to help further people’s involvement with local foods in Wyoming.
“The more we network and know about what everybody else has then we can make things happen,” said Brockman. “We are bringing communities together and asking them what we can do to help, and it’s going to be different for every person.”
Producers who want to be more involved locally need to research and assess the products they want to market, the audience they want to target, whether it’s a school or restaurant, and the amount of supply they have to offer.
Next is to communicate with the food service director or manager of the targeted audience to see if they would have a need and want for the product the producer wants to sell.
This process is going to occur one step at a time and it is highly encouraged for the producer to begin small and grow their program according to their supply, as well as to have constant communication and contingency plans for natural disasters and extra product.
Raw agricultural products
“A category of food producers can sell is raw agricultural products, as long as they remain in their natural state,” described Brockman. “Anytime someone goes to chopping and cutting up produce, it is then no longer a raw agricultural product. However, the produce can be washed and have the tops cut off, if need be.”
When producers donate the extra produce from their gardens to local schools, they need to have a record of everything that was done to them.
“Classrooms are starting to get really interested in local foods and are happy for producers to come in and tell them about their practices,” added Brockman.
Currently schools have their own liability insurance and what they ask from producers is a traceability record in case someone gets sick. Records should indicate the use of pesticides, date of planting and any other processes that have been done to the produce.
Brockman mentioned some homeowner policies and agricultural production polices cover producers for liability if they sell produce to schools.
“Most homeowner policies will cover a producer’s liability as long as they have documentation of how they treated their produce,” stated Brockman.
Brockman further stated there is going to be more regulation for producers from the new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) requiring them to become Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) certified.
“The GAP is not required right now, but producers can keep better traceability records to make it an easier transition into the GAP certification,” encouraged Brockman. “In the next five to 10 years, the GAP policy will probably come into effect where producers will have to be GAP certified to sell to public institutions.”
Brockman spoke at the 2014 Women’s Agricultural Summit sponsored by the Johnson County CattleWomen in Buffalo that took place in late January.
Beef processing plant
Wyoming has 13 state-inspected meat plants, and they are considered equal to USDA-inspected plants, which means all slaughter processes and processing of the meat is inspected.
“Anything that was produced or processed in a state-inspected plant can be used in a school, restaurant and sold in a store in Wyoming as long as it does not cross out of Wyoming,” explained Brook Brockman, ag education coordinator for the Wyoming Department of Agriculture.
“The difference between our state-inspected and USDA is where the product can be shipped,” continues Brockman. “If a product is produced in a USDA plant, it can go all over the U.S.”
Brockman mentions eggs are treated the same as meat, as long as they are inspected and graded.
“We work very closely with our Consumer Health Services (CHS) division in the Department of Agriculture to oversee slaughtering and processing methods,” said Brockman.
CHS maintains an “at least equal to” status with USDA and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and conducts all meat slaughter and processing inspections even where local health departments exist.
A statewide dairy program for Wyoming is also maintained by the CHS, and they enforce a Pasteurized Milk Ordinance as a signatory to the Interstate Milk Shippers Conference.
CHS also promotes public health and safety by conducting hazard analysis-based inspections in several establishments, such as meat plants, restaurants, schools and institutions, dairies, grocery and convenience stores, farmers’ markets, mobile food establishments and many other establishments that handle and sell food.