by Emilie Kirk, Assistant Extension Agent, Sustainable and Organic Agriculture
With farmers’ markets closing and restaurants slowing due to the pandemic, Hawaiʻi’s small farms are looking to larger and more stable markets, such as groceries and wholesale, as well as hoping to capture a larger share of the state economy.
But to make this happen, we first need to address two substantial barriers: food safety training and compliance with regulations.
On Kaua‘i, CTAHR Cooperative Extension is collaborating with two local nonprofits, Mālama Kaua‘i and North Shore Economic Vitality Partnership (North Shore EVP), to leverage $280,000 in CARES Act funds into a new “Safe & Stable Kauaʻi Farms Initiative” supporting a diverse cohort of 40 small farms.
All 40 farms attended our Produce Safety Alliance Grower Training – the most important first step in improving food safety knowledge and achieving compliance with federal regulations. Each farm earned a certificate for completing the required Food Safety Modernization Act training, on-farm food safety assessments, and technical advising.
Now, the grant program is providing each farm up to $5,250 for needed upgrades to improve food safety, technology, and business. The goal is to help farms become safer and open up new business opportunities.
It is super exciting and truly remarkable that Extension was able to train 40 farms so quickly through this program. It more than doubles the number of farms who have completed the training to-date on Kaua‘i. And it couldn’t happen at a more-needed time, especially for farmers like Nophadon Seechachet.
The Safe & Stable Kaua‘i Farms Initiative “might be something small for someone else, but for us it is something very big. We are very happy and grateful,” says the Thai farmer who runs O.K. King Farm. “We are in a bad situation now because COVID-19. It is very difficult for us.”
The final stage of the program is advanced workshops from North Shore EVP on infrastructure, recordkeeping, employee training, and Worker Protections Standard certification. Each workshop will provide supplies for farms to implement what they learn immediately, such as mobile handwashing stations, recordkeeping templates, first-aid kits, measuring equipment, and PPE. Any workshops not filled by the current cohort will be open to other interested farmers.
“This is a great example of a public-private partnership and social investment that really benefits many farms directly,” says Megan Fox of Mālama Kaua‘i. “Food safety certifications are becoming a more common demand from wholesale and institutional buyers, and the grant program is something farmers have been asking for years. These farms are really getting a leg up in their operations and in the market, which is truly needed right now.”
Learn more about the Safe & Stable Kauaʻi Farms Initiative, or contact me, Emilie Kirk, at firstname.lastname@example.org.