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Illinois GAPs Audit Cost-share given to Montalbano Farms

November 15, 2014

Becoming Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) Certified is a step being taken by many Illinois growers, according to a University of Illinois Extension local food systems and small farm educator.

Montalbano Farms is the first Illinois Farm to receive a GAPs audit cost-share.

To assist others in understanding the steps to GAPs certification, farm owners Rob and Christina will be hosting a tour of their farm on Dec. 3 from 10 a.m. to noon. They will be sharing their experiences in writing a Food Safety Plan and seeking a third-party audit.

Ellen Phillips and James Theuri, Extension local food systems and small farm educators will share about GAPs and the audit cost-share opportunities.

Montalbano Farms is a small farm producing a variety of fresh, locally-grown produce for the Chicago land area. Farmers Rob and Christina grow over 12 acres of specialty vegetables, fruit, and herbs on family land in Sandwich, IL. They have a CSA, sell at farmers markets, and provide direct sales.

"We decided to write a food safety plan when we started reading the food safety plans of some other farms. We realized that we were following a lot of similar practices. We wanted to be able to tell our customers how we handle their food to ensure that they are receiving a safe product," said Christina.

They attended a U of I Extension GAPs training and began writing their farm's Food Safety Plan (FSP), seeking help from university educators. Theuri and Phillips visited the farm in August to conduct a mock audit. They toured the production fields and packing house with Christina while reviewing their FSP, Phillips explained.

"We decided to get an audit to prove to our customers that we have Good Agricultural Practices. A third party has been to our farm and verified that we are following our food safety plan. One of our goals this year was to sell more produce through wholesale distribution. Many distributors require an audit," shared Christina.

In September, a USDA inspector visited their farm and Montalbano Farms became GAPs certified.

Although GAPs audits can be expensive, farms are finding it beneficial in opening up new markets. "Our hope is that the GAP certification will help to open more wholesale opportunities for our farm. The cost-share benefit allowed us to see if the certification is worthwhile by making it much more affordable," Christina noted.There is no registration fee for this farm tour, but participants are asked to preregister by Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2013. For more information or to register please call U of I Extension, Cook County at 708-449-4320 or visit http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/

Source: Ellen Phillips, Extension Educator, Local Food Systems and Small Farms, ephillps@uiuc.edu