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Food Safety Marketing Helps Pave Path to Success at Produce Auction

Posted by Ed Avalos, USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs in Conservation
Nov 19, 2015
Under Secretary Ed Avalos (right) with AMS Associate Administrator Rex Barnes (middle) visiting with producers
Under Secretary Ed Avalos (right) with AMS Associate Administrator Rex Barnes (middle) visit with producers during their visit to the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction.

Finding new ways to market the safety and quality of your food is the key to success in the agricultural industry. This is especially true for our small and mid-sized growers who are looking to expand to various outlets. These growers are now turning to produce auctions as a way to sell their food to a wider range of customers such as retail wholesale buyers and farmers markets outside their local communities. 

In a recent trip to the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction in Dayton, Va., I saw approximately 400 growers use this auction to share their bountiful harvest. Taking place several times a year, the largest wholesale auction in Virginia is an excellent alternative market for small growers. Prospective buyers bid intensely to procure large lots of fruits, vegetables, flowers, bedding plants, trees and shrubs, fall decor (pumpkins, mums, gourds), and compost, to name a few.

During the auction, it was exciting to see growers showcasing their commitment to food safety. In fact, the Shenandoah Valley website promotes their growers who are audit certified for Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) as recommended by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Obtaining GAP certification has traditionally been a roadblock for many small farmers; however, the new GroupGAP Pilot Program facilitates the certification process for small and mid-sized growers. The GAP-certified growers can now meet the food safety requirements of wholesale buyers who come to the auction with the promise of offering large contracts.

I took the trip to Dayton with my colleagues from the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). This included Associate Administrator Rex Barnes and Specialty Crops Program Associate Deputy Administrator Dr. Melissa Bailey. The AMS Specialty Crops Inspection Division (SCI) performs voluntary GAP audits so they were especially proud to see growers using this service to market their food at the auction.

To date, our SCI Division has performed over 3,800 GAP/GHP audits. Looking to the future, we are excited at the possibility of increasing this number as we implement the GroupGAP Program later this spring. This program will allow growers to work together to get certified as a group, helping them meet food safety requirements to the increasing demand for local food.

GAP certification is a top priority for USDA and we recognize the positive impact it has on our local communities. We saw a great example in our trip to a school that purchases much of its food directly from the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction. Each purchase creates economic opportunities for our growers and a bright future for students eating the healthy foods. USDA is committed to helping our nation’s growers meet food safety requirements – a win for us all.

Category/Topic: Conservation