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UMass Vegetable Winter School: A New Workshop Series

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 onions drying in greenhouse
November 15, 2016

The University of Massachusetts is rolling out a new workshop series designed specifically for vegetable farm owners, managers and employees. UMass Vegetable Winter School kicks off on January 10, 2017, with two main goals:  to provide education that will help farmers with regulatory compliance and to improve efficiency and overall farm management. This ‘one-stop shopping’ option will allow farmers to learn about and begin to implement many of their regulatory needs at once.  New regulations have come forward surrounding food safety, worker protection standards (WPS), employee law, and nutrient management which require farmer outreach and education.

Katie Campbell-Nelson, Vegetable Extension Educator and Team Leader, has organized this workshop series where she will have the opportunity to work with a group of farmers during winter months. She looks forward to getting to know them in a classroom setting where they can plan and address needs well before the season begins.  She said, “I’m used to spending time with farmers in the heat of the season when their operations are running full tilt.” She and her team aim to support growers’ education and planning process with more time to reflect and build a learning community.

This seven-workshop series meets weekly on Tuesdays through January and February offering a different topic each week. Goals of each workshop will be: support for developing food safety and nutrient management plans, training employees in WPS, developing standard operating procedures compliant with regulations, and preparing an employee handbook and a whole farm IPM plan. Participants will leave Winter School prepared to pass a Commonwealth Quality audit and they will gain a competitive advantage in a heavily regulated market.

 

Partners include the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) who is responsible for enforcing the agricultural regulations in this state. Their certification program, called Commonwealth Quality (CQ), gives farmers improved market access to grocery store chains like Market Basket and Big Y. Attendees will leave the workshop prepared to pass a CQ audit. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provided funds specifically for food safety education and risk management.

All workshops will be held at the Brigham Hill Community Farm in Grafton, MA. Brigham Hill is a non-profit farm that engages volunteers to grow fresh fruits and vegetables to provide to those experiencing hunger.

Jim Schultz, owner of Red Shirt Farm in Lanesboro, is an eager registrant. He is interested in becoming compliant with new regulations, especially those dealing with food safety. Schultz anticipates he will be ahead of the game when applying for grants with up-to-date knowledge about new regulations. He also sees a benefit to eventually being able to tell his customers that he is food-safety certified. Schultz looks forward to meeting farmers across the state to discuss issues that affect them all, a rare opportunity given their busy lives.  When searching for such a course to meet his needs, he discovered it is the only one of its kind offered in Massachusetts. Although Schultz will travel 200 miles round-trip for each workshop, he feels it will be time well-spent.

Tuition is $475. Register online.

Contact://kcampbel@umass.edu"> Katie Campbell-Nelson for more information

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