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GAP Certification Field Day at Montalbano Farms

By Shelbie Blank, Farmer Training Program Assistant

    Monday, April 21st CRAFT members gathered at Montalbano Farms to get a detailed look into Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification. It was a warm, windy day, threatening rain, so—first things first—farm tour! Farmer Christina Goy and Farmer Camelia Minasian guided the group past the barns out back to the hoophouses and 96’x30’ greenhouse. Christina spoke about GAP standards required for greenhouses, hoophouses, and also the fields. She also answered questions and told us about their farm’s newly acquired land; mending soils that were previously farmed conventionally and reverting them back into organic. A few parcels of their land are ready to be USDA certified this year and with more fields to follow next year.

    After the tour we all went back inside to get down to the main business at hand: food safety plans and GAP certification. Christina and Camelia explained that the essence of GAP is handling food in a safe and sanitary matter. This starts with keeping pests out of your fields, greenhouses, and barn areas. Next you would want to train your crew to not harvest bad food, to wash hands, to keep the water sanitizer at proper levels, and so much more.  Making sure things are kept up to GAP standards requires a lot of record keeping and logs of cooler temperatures, sanitation times, cleaning schedules, etc.

    The next section of learning about GAP certification was all about the traceability. If something were wrong with your food, you would need to be able to go back to the exact field where the food came from and prevent the issue from continuing. Traceability requires a daily log of what was harvested, from which field, by whom, how many steps has the crop been through (harvested, washed, spun, packed, etc.), how was it washed, batch number, etc. The year, Julian date, step, and batch number for each crop combine to make a lot code number. This code will then leave their pack barn with each corresponding crop. If someone were to get sick this number, along with the help of their logs, will lead them straight to the source(s) in the fields.

To help us even more with the food safety and traceability aspects combined, Camelia guided us through a demonstration. She showed us the GAP standards procedure on how they would properly wash freshly harvested kale all the way to packing. She taught us not to put anything directly on the floor, maintain pH levels in the sanitation water, clean out the spinner before use, and of course completing each log required along the way.

    Don’t be discouraged, there is a lot to GAP certification but Christina says, “I feel confident about the food we are selling,” which is a great reason to be certified. If you’re doing wholesales some stores require GAP certification, which is another thing to consider when it comes to your competitors. Becoming GAP certified does require taking an official class, if you’ve already taken the class with the University of Illinois Extension they are offering up to 75% back on the cost of a GAP audit. Times running out though, apply before September for your chance to receive funds!  Learn more about the USDA’s GAP standards here