By: Billy Mitchell & Tricia Wancko
Y’all, it is cold outside. Sure, colder in some places than others—how Montana Farmers Union members survive the winter without their eyebrows freezing off, I’ll never know—but we’re all feeling the chill of winter and looking for some warmth and coziness. If you’re like us, nothing gives you the warm-and-fuzzies like reading and thinking about food safety—both understanding the regulations and discovering practical on-farm solutions. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up a reading list of farmer-recommended and approved books to start your new year off right.
A Small Farmer’s Practical Guide to Food Safety is a new classic authored by the National Young Farmers Coalition as part of their work with the Local Food Safety Collaborative, an FDA-funded initiative to provide training, education, and technical assistance to local food producers. The two main authors—who have experience farming on a small scale and are food safety heroes—use their personal on-farm experiences and encyclopedic knowledge of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule (PSR) to craft a guide that takes federal regulations and translates them into practical language that farmers can follow and apply. It’s been helpful for small-scale farmers all over the country, including Mariah Foley who used it as the basis for their farm’s food safety plan and grows some of the most beautiful produce we’ve ever seen out at Rock Bottom Ranch in Colorado.
During a recent SCRUB workshop on Tools for Employee Management and Empowerment, Taylor Mendell from Vermont recommended Work Clean: The life-changing power of mise-en-place to organize your life, work, and mind. The book shares some incredible life lessons from world-class kitchens that teach strategies for keeping a clean workflow and fostering team collaboration. The same everyday disasters and messes that can happen in a disorganized kitchen can happen on your farm when you don’t have good cleaning and sanitizing practices in place. Applying some of the concepts outlined in this book can help a farmer meet the Produce Safety Rule requirement of ensuring that “postharvest equipment, containers, tools, and the packing environment must not be potential sources of contamination.”
Another book that’s gotten rave reviews and inspired small-scale growers to work towards creating a clean environment on their farms is The Lean Farm: How to Minimize Waste, Increase Efficiency, and Maximize Value and Profits with Less Work by Ben Hartman of Clay Bottom Farm in Indiana. Himself inspired by the work of both George Washington Carver (Tuskegee University) and Taiichi Ohno (Toyota), Hartman lays out strategies for becoming a “lean” farmer, one that “plugs into the community, listens to what food is needed, and then grows exactly what customers want, in the right amount, at the right time. No effort is wasted. Rather than keep every tool, the lean farmer selects just a few to get the work accomplished.” Speaking of tools, a question that our friends over at the University of Vermont Ag Engineering department ask is “how cleanable are the tools I use to clean the other equipment and tools?” As a farmer considers how to keep their buildings and equipment lean and clean, it pays to think about not only what cleaning tools work best, but also how to keep those tools clean.
To round out your winter reading list, we’d suggest diving into Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by adrienne maree brown. As part of a food safety plan writing class with the Young Farmers Coalition, Kelly Skillingstead of Long Hearing Farm introduced us to this book and its ideas that can help you think about ways to transform your farm practices, your employee training, and your farming community. Brown shares insights influenced by migration and mycelium that can help a grower develop an on-farm food safety culture that is positive and inspiring.
Interested in more food safety-specific resources? Please visit the Local Food Safety Collaborative website along with the Food Safety Resource Clearinghouse for a curated source of food safety guides, factsheets, templates, and more. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates on the latest food safety news.
This project website is supported by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award 1U01FD006921-01 totaling $1,000,000 with 100 percent funded by FDA/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by FDA/HHS, or the U.S. Government.