farmers market

Food Safety Resources for Farmers

farmers market groupAs we understand more about the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19 worldwide, we are constantly updating information and resources to help guide the fruit and vegetable farming community in Connecticut. Please use this resource document with links to information relevant to CT farmers.

It can be easier to adapt to a constantly changing scenario if there are studies or examples to follow. Some farmers markets have changed the way they do business to implement some of the best food safety practices. Here is information from what some farmers’ markets and CSAs are doing. The following was adapted from information compiled by Chris Callahan, UVM.

  • Carrborro, NC Farmer’s Market Case Study – NC State Extension has posted a summary of what the Carrboro Farmers’ Market has done. Briefly, this included communication with market customers, physical distancing by rearranging the market layout, rounding prices for limited use of coins, running a “tab” for customers to minimize cash transactions, no samples, no tablecloths to ease sanitation, and the addition of a hand washing station among other things.
  • Minimize the Number of Touches (CSA) – One CSA has decided to change how they distribute to an urban market.  They have previously trucked larger bins of produce to a distribution site where customers would select their own produce to fill their share. They have decided to pack the shares to order at the farm prior to distribution to minimize the number of people touching the produce. Another alternative would be packing shares to order at the market.
  • Minimize the Number of Touches (Farmers’ Market) – The Bennington Farmers’ Market in Vermont has shifted to online ordering and pre-bagged orders from each farm that are combined into larger collective orders delivered to each customer via a drive-up system. The biggest decision was deciding that they’d actually continue to have the market. The new approach required the addition of an on-line ordering system (Google Forms for now), coordination among farms and some serious organization at the market. Orders are organized alphabetically; pickups are scheduled with a quarter of the alphabet every 30 minutes. People won’t get out of their cars.
  • What are some other farms doing? Some farms have written and implemented specific response plans or taken other measures to mitigate the risk of COVID-19. For example, Two Farmers Farm in Scarborough, Maine have developed a detailed, yet flexible farm plan available online.


If you would like to share what your operation is doing to ensure food safety and have suggestions for the community to combat COVID-19, please feel free to email me at indu.upadhyaya@uconn.edu.

Meanwhile, stay healthy and safe and we will keep you updated with the latest information as we learn more.

By Indu Upadhyaya, DVM, MVSc, PhD

Assistant Extension Educator, Food Safety, UConn Extension

Considerations for Fruit and Vegetable Growers Related to Coronavirus

Considerations for Fruit and Vegetable Growers Related to Coronavirus & COVID-19

coronavirus image
Photo: National Park Service

The situation with current COVID-19 pandemic is escalating unpredictably and as we are monitoring the virus spread in CT, here are some tips for farmers to practice safe food production.

This information is adapted from a blog post by Chris Callahan from University of Vermont.

Considerations for Fruit and Vegetable Growers Related to Coronavirus & COVID-19

The current COVID-19 pandemic is a common concern and many are wondering what they can and should do. The information here is intended to help guide the fruit and vegetable farming community. If you have concerns or additional suggestions please email us (email addresses at the end) or the CT Department of Agriculture ProduceSafety@ct.gov

Background

COVID-19 is the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus (“the novel coronavirus”). Symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath, and may appear 2-14 days after exposure. While the majority of COVID-19 illnesses are mild, it can result in severe and fatal illness, particularly in the elderly and among those with severe underlying health conditions. Federal and State agencies are working hard to better understand the virus, how to control its spread, and how to treat those infected.  One of the key things we can all do is to limit and slow the spread of COVID-19 to provide time for this understanding to develop and to not overwhelm the medical system. Much more information is available at the CDC Situational Summary page. 

What Should Growers Do?

  1. Stay Away from Produce if Sick – If someone is sick, they should be nowhere near fruit and vegetables that others are going to eat. This is likely already part of your farm’s food safety plan and policies, but this is a good reminder to emphasize and enforce the policy. Make sure employees stay home if they feel sick and send them home if they develop symptoms at work. Consider posting signs asking customers not to shop at your farm stand if they have symptoms.
  2. Practice Physical Distancing – By putting a bit more space between you and others you can reduce your chances of getting ill. This might mean limiting or prohibiting farm visitors or reducing the number of off-farm meetings you attend in person. Avoid shaking hands and other physical contact. This also reduces the risk of your produce coming into contact with someone who is ill before it heads to market.
  3. Wash Your Hands – Reinforce the importance of washing hands well when arriving at work, when changing tasks (e.g. moving from office work to wash/pack), before and after eating, after using the bathroom, before putting on gloves when working with produce, and after contact with animals. Soap + water + 20 seconds or more are needed to scrub all surfaces of your hands and fingers thoroughly, then dispose of paper towels in a covered container.
  4. Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Drying –Viruses can be relatively long-lasting in the environment, and have the potential to be transferred via food or food contact surfaces. In this early stage, there is no indication that this virus has spread via food of any type. However, there’s no better time than the present to review, improve, and reinforce your standard operating procedures for cleaning, sanitizing, and drying any food contact surfaces, food handling equipment, bins, and tools. Remember, cleaning means using soap and water, sanitizing is using a product labeled for sanitizing, and drying means allowing the surfaces to dry completely before use.
  5. Plan for Change – Many produce farms are lean operations run by one or two managers and a minimal crew.  Do you have a plan for if you become severely ill?  How do things change if half your workforce is out sick?  More business and labor planning guidance is available at the Cornell Agricultural Workforce Development site.

For more information on how to protect yourself, please visit CDC How to prepare for Corona virus 

What Should Markets and Farmers Markets Do?

  1. Everything Above – Growers, retail food market owners, and farmers market managers should do all the things above. Does your market have a hand washing station? More guidance for food and lodging businesses is available from the  Vermont Department of Health.
  2. Communicate with your Customers – Consider reaching out to your customers and recommend they stay home if they are ill. Have you informed your customers about any changes in your hours or policies?
  3. Consider Alternative Delivery – Some markets are taking this opportunity to launch pre-ordering and electronic payment options to enable social distancing at market.  Some markets are moving to a drive-through pickup option.
  4. Reinforce the Health Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables – We are fortunate to have so many growers who do a great job with storage crops and winter production. This means our community has access to fresh fruits and vegetables that are important to their immune systems at this time of need.  Be sure to promote the nutritional value of your products! But, keep in mind that promotion of your products should be within reason. Avoid making overly broad or unsupported health claims. Fresh produce contains many minerals and nutrients important for immune health which may reduce the severity and duration of an illness. Fun Fact: Pound for pound, that storage cabbage in your cooler has as nearly as much vitamin C as oranges.

What should CSA Farmers do?

  1. Communicate with your CSA Members – Consider reaching out to your members to let them know of any payment plans you can offer, to help ease the burden for families that are coping with unexpected loss of income or childcare costs. Remind members of your commitment to food safety, but don’t make broad claims about the risk of unsafe produce in grocery stores which most people in our communities still rely upon.
  2. Consider your CSA pick up – Members this year may be more concerned about the space and flow of their CSA pick up, looking for more distance between each other and their produce bags as they gather their veggies. Customers may prefer pre-bagged greens and appreciate other pre-weighed items for ease of selection. There could even be renewed interest in the CSA box model over the CSA mix & match model. Prepare for the need for modifications in order to ease concerns members may be feeling after weeks or months of social distancing.

Please stay safe and stay tuned for further updates as this is a constantly changing scenario.

Thank you,

UConn Extension Team

(Indu, Mary, Shuresh and Jiff)

indu.upadhyaya@uconn.edu

mary.concklin@uconn.edu

shuresh.ghimire@uconn.edu

jiff.martin@uconn.edu

Urban Ag Students

Blumenthal and urban ag students
Senator Richard Blumenthal, UConn Extension Educator German Cutz (far right), and urban agriculture students at the Danbury Farmers Market.

Our urban agriculture students, and Extension Educator German Cutz visited with Senator Richard Blumenthal at the Danbury Connecticut Farmers’ Market on Saturday, September 24th. Our students in the urban agriculture program complete extensive classroom hours, and hands-on learning in the field and markets.

Celebrate a CT Grown Thanksgiving

By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH, RD

UConn Extension Educator – Food Safety

 

eXtension turkey
Photo: eXtension

The origins of the American Thanksgiving celebration can be debated. For early settlers, the occasion was often religious in nature, offering thanksgiving and praise for many blessings, not just a bountiful harvest. But, traditionally, we are taught that the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving Day in 1621, following their first harvest in the New World. Accounts indicate that this was a three day feast, attended by both the new world settlers and Native Americans, who shared what they had produced as well.

In 1863, Thanksgiving was given national holiday status in a proclamation by Abraham Lincoln, to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November. While it has come to mean many things (football, the beginning of the holiday shopping season, etc.), the holiday continues to be a celebration that is centered on bringing family and friends together for a large meal, often at least partially based on that 1621 Pilgrim feast.

One thing we know for sure…the meal shared by the Pilgrims and the Native Americans was locally grown! It might have included turkey, but definitely duck, goose, or even pigeon and venison; shellfish, including lobster, oysters, mussels and clams, smoked fish; corn porridge made from Indian corn; chestnuts and walnuts; and pumpkins and squashes. Potatoes and cranberries had not arrived yet: and if they had pumpkin, there was no pie, as flour was not available. They might have had some fresh vegetables, but in November they were likely limited to onions, beans, cabbage, and carrots.

Chances are, they meal was composed to a large extent of meat, fish, and fowl and more meat, fish and fowl.

So, since we, too, are located in proximity to the first northeastern settlers, why not be true to tradition (at least a little bit!), and try for a Thanksgiving feast composed of food grown and/or processed in Connecticut. It can be done pretty easily with just a little effort.

First, consider what produce is seasonally available. The Crop Availability Calendar located on the Connecticut Department of Agriculture (DoAg) web site (go to www.ct.gov/doag and click on “Where to find Connecticut Grown Products”), indicates that in November, apples, carrots, greens, mushrooms, onions, pears, potatoes, turnips and winter squashes (including pumpkin, acorn, butternut, and others) are available. Find these fruits and veggies at a farmer’s market or local farm stand near you. Occasionally you may be able to find local products at your larger grocery store as well, but support your farmer at the source. There are over a hundred farm stores in Connecticut. A listing by county can be found on the DoAg website as well. Farmer’s markets are beginning to wind down for the season, but many remain open until Thanksgiving, selling the very produce listed above. At least 10 on the DoAg listing remain open until November 22, with a handful holding on until late December.

Some might think, “OK, that’s the easy part, what about the turkey?” Just as you can buy local produce, in our state, it is possible to support local producers of turkey and other fowl, shellfish from our waters and, perhaps, if you are a hunter (or, at least good friend with one), add venison to the mix.

Actually, finding locally grown poultry might be easier than you think, though the trick is ordering your bird before they are all spoken for. Demand is greater than supply for that locally produced turkey. Again, go to the Department of Agriculture web site above, click on “Connecticut Grown Products” and head to the Poultry and Eggs section. Here you will find listed by county and identified by product (turkey, chicken, eggs, etc.) a poultry producer near you. Again, it is extremely important to order early. I can tell you this from experience. A few years back I had to drive two hours to Sterling, (almost to Rhode Island) to pick up a turkey that was way bigger than I needed; just to get a “local” bird for my Thanksgiving dinner! Now I order in October and don’t have to drive nearly as far.

If your holiday meat of choice is the venison you (or a friend) were lucky enough to bring home, just a few food safety notes to keep in mind. The Pennsylvania State University has a great resource for handling deer safely, titled, “Proper Care of Venison from Field to Table.” This publication “contains guidelines and helpful hints to help you ensure that the food you’re providing is safe.” Nothing ruins Thanksgiving like a bout of foodborne illness!

We all know that sometimes what makes a holiday meal special is not the main players, but the bit parts: relishes, sauces, condiments and desserts. Use Connecticut eggs in your pies, cream in your whipped cream (beats the spray can any day!), and butter on your mashed potatoes or in your sweet potato brown sugar glaze. Sweeten your desserts (or sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, carrots or acorn squash) with local maple syrup. Add spice with locally sourced pickles, relishes or sauces—a good place to find them is your local farm market. Complete your dinner with a locally produced milk, cider, wine or beer.

Additional lists on the Connecticut Grown site include those for apple growers, honey producers, maple sugar houses, meat producers, organic farms, and vineyards and wineries. Or, contact the UConn Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271 for more information.

Urban Agriculture Program

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A group of 13 Hispanic adults from Danbury and Bridgeport are participating in an Urban Agriculture program. This UConn Extension program has been designed in a way that students learn the science behind agriculture (botany, soils, vegetable production, integrated pest management, etc.), apply their knowledge by producing vegetables, and promotes entrepreneurship by allowing students sell their produce at a local Farmer’s Market.
(Back row left-rigth back): Juan Guallpa, Saul Morocho, Vicente Garcia, Simon Sucuz, Jose Rivera, Leonardo Cordova, Rolando Davila
Front row left-right: Patricia Morocho, Laura Rivera, Partha Loor, Rosa Panza, Maria Lojano.
Farmers_Market_pic1  Farmers_Market_pic2
At left: Danbury’s Mayor Mark Boughton visiting UConn Extension Urban Agriculture students at Danbury Farmer’s Market on June 27th.
At right: Connecticut State Representative David Arconti Jr. visiting UConn Extension Urban Agriculture students at Danbury Farmer’s Market on June 27th.

Eat locally grown, even in winter….

By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH, RD

UConn Extension Educator, Food Safety

Photo: Tomatoes at Bishop’s Orchards in Guilford. Credit: Jude Boucher, UConn Extension

tomatoes

After a food-filled holiday season (including, I must confess, raspberries, grown somewhere in South America, in a fruit salad…), it is time that many of us resolve to eat healthier and, perhaps, to attempt to eat more locally grown foods.  It sure can be difficult to live with THAT resolution during winter in Connecticut.

 

Eating seasonally can get a bit tedious over the long hard winter if your supply is limited by either amount or variety.  But, many farmers are now extending their growing seasons with greenhouses, high tunnels and other production methods.  You may find the fruits of their winter labor at a winter farmers’ market near you.  Actually, there are 10 of these markets in the state—one is likely not far from you.  Included are the Fairfield and New Canaan Farmers’ Markets in Fairfield County; the Hartford Market at Billings Forge in Hartford County; CitySeed’s indoor farmers’ market in New Haven, Madison farmer’s market and Guilford farmers’ markets in New Haven County; Stonington Winter Farmers’ Market in New London County; Coventry, Ellington, and Storrs Winter Farmers’ Markets in Tolland County; and Stonington farmers’ market in New London County. Check with the local market near you for hours, days and times.  Some meet only once or twice a month, others continue to be open weekly.

 

Keep in mind that shopping at the farmers’ market in the winter is different than in the summer—or than in a super market in the winter.  If it is an outdoor market, it WILL be cold—or there may be snow on the ground.  Indoors or out, the food choices will be different.  You might find beets, carrots, celeriac/celery root, Jerusalem artichokes, kohlrabi, parsnips, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, salsify, sweet potatoes, turnips, and winter squash.  If you are not familiar with, let’s say, kohlrabi or rutabaga, type the name into your favorite search engine (or leaf through a good general cookbook) and you will be sure to find a tasty recipe or two.

 

You might also discover Belgian endive, broccoli, broccoli raab/rapini, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, chicories, curly endive (frisée), escarole, kale, or radicchio.

 

Hearty leafies like escarole, chicories, endive and radicchio make a great base for a winter salad.  Because they have stronger flavors than the usual romaine or ice berg, they make a great base for other seasonal foods.   Try escarole or arugula with pears and walnuts.  Or try making a cole slaw with red cabbage and shredded kale—it is really delicious with dried cranberries or chunks of fresh apple added.

 

Flavor your winter veggies with leeks, onions and shallots. They can pretty much all be used interchangeably, but there are subtle flavor and pungency differences that may lead the eater to favor one over another. Try them raw, in salads; cooked, in just about any soup, stew, stir fry or casserole; or roasted, alone or mixed with other winter vegetables.

 

While you’re at it, this might be a good time to splurge a little and buy some locally produced meats, poultry or shellfish.  Locally produced animal protein foods may be a bit more expensive, but one taste and you will know that is was worth it.  Most farmers’ markets will have these products as well as local artisanal cheeses and other dairy products.  Give them a try and you will be hooked.

 

Finally, while not grown locally, citrus fruits are certainly a “seasonal” food.  It makes sense to add them to your grocery list at this time of year-even if you know they won’t be found at your local farmers’ market.  First of all they provide vitamin C and other nutrients that might be difficult to find in a limited seasonal diet.  Look for those grown in the US, including Texas, Florida, Arizona and California, if that will make you feel better (local can be defined as you see fit, here!).  Sliced oranges are great in winter salads made of a mixture of radicchio, escarole and endive.  The sweetness of the oranges offsets the bitterness of the greens.  Finish with some balsamic vinegar and a little olive oil.  You can also use dried cherries or cranberries in this salad along with some walnuts or pecans.

 

Sprinkle orange juice over cooked beets or carrots, or use the rind in cranberry bread.  Limes and their juice are often used in recipes that are Indian, Central American or Caribbean in origin.  A bit of lime juice along with a handful of cilantro will make a black bean soup even better.

 

For more information on eating locally and seasonally, contact the Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271 for more information.