Today more than ever, consumers want local produce and local farmers are ready to sell it to them. But there is a gap in the process – and Grand Rapids Community College has designed a program to close that gap.
Through a regional, public/private sector partnership, GRCC hopes their new Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) Food Safety program will provide the solution. GRCC’s GAP program will certify area farmers so they can supply Michigan grocers and wholesale distributors such as Sysco, Spartan Stores and others.
Sysco Produce Manager and GRCC Food Safety Advisory Council member, Denis Jennisch, is glad that GRCC has stepped up to take on this role for the region. “Our demand for local food is greater than the supply, yet food safety requirements are limiting some growers from working with us. This program will take growers to the point of being ready for full certification and then we will be able to source their product. That means more local produce will be available at local grocery stores, restaurants and schools,” said Jennisch.
According to GRCC Director of Workforce Training, Julie Parks, GRCC’s GAP Food Safety program is “one of the most comprehensive training programs in food safety practices, due to our on-farm mentoring program which will prepare growers for full certification. This training is especially valuable for small and mid-size growers working in sustainable agriculture in the state of Michigan,” she said.
“We took a great deal of time to find out what was missing in terms of food safety training and offerings. Our goal is to work with other organizations and institutions and to compliment rather than duplicate offerings,” added Parks. “Food buyers in the area are in need of more growers who are food safety certified. What we discovered from our Food Safety Advisory Council was that farmers need training in developing their own certification manual. Our expert instructors help with that.”
“GRCC’s program combines best practices from Michigan, along with other regions in the country, produces a self-audit, and ultimately a food safety manual suitable for review by an auditor,” said Phil Tocco, MSU Extension, Jackson County and instructor for the course.
GAP Program community partners include Sysco, Walsma Lyons, Michigan State University Extension Services, and Morse Marketing Connections.
The first session began on February 6 and consists of three training sessions on consecutive Monday evenings. It will be offered again beginning April 9. The cost for this session is $199.00. Those interested in the GAP Food Safety Training should call (616) 234-3400 or go to grcclearn.com and click on food safety.
In 2010, GRCC trained over 8,000 people. Training areas include, but are not limited to: Alternative Energy, Business and Entrepreneurship, Health Care, Innovation, Manufacturing, and Sustainable Construction.
Grand Rapids Community College, established in 1914, offers opportunities for over 30,000 students annually in degree courses, certification and training programs, workshops and personal enrichment classes. GRCC holds classes on the downtown Grand Rapids campus as well as several additional locations throughout Kent and Ottawa counties.