Minnesota Grown staff and Guest Author articles on topics relevant for Minnesota Grown members.
2019 Year in Review: Minnesota Grown
Minnesota Grown staff
Throughout 2019, Minnesota Grown staff visited 45+ farms, markets, tradeshows, and association events to meet and learn from members like you in person. Here is a snapshot of other key work from 2019 to help connect the public to local foods:
Promoting Local Foods & Agriculture
- In 2019, a Minnesota Grown Christmas tree returned to the Capitol Rotunda for the first time since restoration began in 2015. Over the years, display of a tree in the Capitol has been a way to recognize Minnesota’s Christmas tree industry during the holidays. The Capitol tree display opportunity is awarded to that year’s State Fair Grand Champion Christmas tree winner: congratulations in 2019 to Happy Land Tree Farm of Sandstone, MN!
- Minnesota Grown was thrilled to be a major sponsor of the “Celebrating Superior Sweetness” Maple Syrup Producer’s conference in Duluth in October 2019. It had been 18 years since Minnesota hosted this international group of syrup producers. At the conference, staff shared about the Minnesota Grown program and new maple syrup marketing materials with current and potential members.
- 17 Grocery Stores statewide participated in the 2019 Minnesota Grown Retailer of the Year contest, run in collaboration with the Minnesota Grocers Association. Stores compete to have the best display of local foods and are awarded points for their creativity in sharing about local foods with customers in store ads, social media, and other engagement activities.
- From mid-summer through early fall, you may have seen our Early Season Apple Campaign, which included TV advertising, press releases, and social media pushes. It helped customers understand what apple varieties they could find at orchards, farmers markets, and grocery stores in the weeks leading-up to Labor Day, extending customer perception of when local apples can be found.
Advertising & Social Media Pushes
- Revamp of the Minnesota Grown Instagram account has led to 1,400 new followers and higher engagement per post! Posts on Instagram are curated from our members’ posts – be sure to tag @minnesotagrownmda and #minnesotagrown for a chance to be featured.
- More than 32,500 people now follow Minnesota Grown’s Facebook page, and themed-days like “New Member Mondays” and “Farmers Market Fridays” have been popular with both members and followers.
- Digital, TV, and “Pay-per-Click” (PPC) ads pushed customers toward local foods in 2019: TV ads promoting local ran on stations in Rochester, Duluth, the metro area, and other statewide markets throughout 2019. Minnesota Grown also ran PPC (or “Search Engine Marketing”) ads on Google and Bing search engines that helped people searching for local food terms to find related Minnesota Grown Directory listings more quickly.
- 10+ Press Releases around local foods were issued for statewide press pick-up. Just a few of these topics included: National Farmers Market Week, the beginning of berry season, sign-up for CSA subscriptions, and early season apple varieties.
Marketing Materials & Cost Sharing Program
- From July 2018-June 2019, Minnesota Grown shared $5,834 in signage/labeling costs with 38 member applicants through our Cost Share Program – an average of $153.53 saved per qualifying project!
- Major redesigns and exciting new marketing materials offered in 2019 included:
- Apple price cards
- Honey stickers & price cards
- Maple syrup stickers
- Meat-specific price tags
Minnesota Grown Directory
- 155,000 printed copies of the 2019 Directory were created in April and have been distributed across all corners of the state at libraries, clinics, travel stops, farmers markets, restaurants, and more!
- 320,000+ visits to MinnesotaGrown.com in 2019 have helped customers to local foods through our online directory.
- New product categories like – MN Ag Water Quality Certified, Microgreens, and Hemp – help potential customers connect with new kinds of local foods and products that they’re seeking.
- The new MinnesotaGrown.com (launched February 2019) helped customers search in new ways: by radius, along a route, or by product, making it easier for them to plan a local adventure.
Minnesota State Fair 2019
- Member volunteers were recognized each morning on Minnesota Grown’s Facebook page, along with a short description of what the public could learn by chatting with each member.
- On the main Minnesota Grown table, fairgoers could find local producers near them using iPads set-up to display the online directory.
- 2,000 “Buy Local”-themed postcards were filled-out by fairgoers and sent to their friends and family from the Minnesota Grown booth area.
MDA Produce Safety Program (PSP) Updates
FSMA Produce Safety Rule Compliance Dates and Inspections Reminder
The Produce Safety Rule compliance date for large farms (selling over $500K in average annual produce sales during the previous 3-year period) was January 26, 2018. The MDA PSP will begin inspections of large farms in May of 2019. Large farms covered under the Produce Safety Rule that do not qualify for an exemption must complete a standardized food safety training.
What to Expect – FSMA Produce Safety Rule Inspection Process
We have developed a resource to provide more information on the inspection process. In Minnesota, the farmer and inspector will agree on an inspection date that works for both of you during a pre-inspection call. Please click this link (What to Expect – FSMA Produce Safety Inspection Process) for a PDF download with more information on the inspection process.
On Farm Readiness Review (OFRR)
Are you aware of an On Farm Readiness Review (OFRR)? This is a free, non-regulatory on farm visit by MDA Produce Safety staff and the University of MN Extension educators to help you assess your farm operations answer your questions and provide you resources that meet your needs. The OFRR is available to all produce growers who are covered, qualified exempt or excluded under the Produce Safety Rule. To schedule an OFRR and for more information click this link (On Farm Readiness Reviews) for a PDF download.
Are you thinking of getting a GAP audit this year?
Annalisa Hultberg Extension Educator, On-Farm Food Safety, University of Minnesota
Before planting time is planning time. Planning for crops, markets, and food safety! This time of year we get calls and emails from growers wanting to get ready for the season and want to get their farm “GAP-certified.” Should you get a GAP audit on your fresh produce this summer? Read on for some tips.
A GAP audit is basically a verification that your farm is following science-based best practices for food safety in growing fresh produce. A few things to consider:
What is a GAP audit? A GAP audit is when an inspector from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) or another certifying body comes to your farm with a checklist to verify that you have implemented and are following Good Agricultural Practices during the growing, harvesting, packing, storage, and transportation of your product.
What gets audited? It is your product (e.g. cucumbers, green beans, tomatoes) that actually gets the audit. The audit also occurs during the harvest and packing activities related to that product. You won’t be able to have an audit done ahead of time or in the winter; you have to have it while the product is growing and the auditor can see you harvest and pack the product. The auditor will be able to certify many crops while they are at the farm, however, as long as the crop is in the field.
Before you get the audit: If you are even thinking about getting your product certified you may have already started your food safety plan and implemented some of the practices. Here are 4 things to consider before requesting an audit:
- Who is requiring the audit? If you are selling to a wholesale distributor or large grocery chain, they might require an audit. If you are selling to a food hub, school, hospital, or other institution, they may require an audit but they may accept other verification such as providing written food safety plan. Don’t get a GAP audit unless you have a buyer who requires an audit and a certificate for your product! Talk with your buyer before you get the audit to make sure you are getting one that they accept.
- What products do you want audited? This is a management decision your farm will have to make. What can you grow well, and sell large volumes of to a wholesale customer that is requiring the GAP audit? Seek a GAP audit on the crops where it makes financial sense for your farm. If you have a small amount of a particular crop, and you don’t anticipate selling it to a wholesaler, then you would not likely get a GAP audit for that product.
But remember! If the auditor can see it growing, they can likely audit it. The auditor can conduct the audit on multiple crops during one audit, saving you money. They will not have to come back to your farm multiple times for different crops, unless the crop isn’t in the ground when they are there.
- What kind of audit is your buyer requiring? There are multiple audit schemes. If you are just starting the process and this is the first time you will be having an audit, start with the basic USDA GAP audit. But check with your buyer to ensure that they will accept this audit. The most current USDA GAP audit checklist is what the auditor uses. The checklist is everything the audit will cover: i.e. you get the test before taking it!
- Do you have your food safety plan written? You must have a written food safety plan that covers the policies and practices that represent what you do on your farm. The MDA auditors say it’s easier for them if you write your plan in the same order as the USDA GAP Audit Checklist, and make sure to include the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and records as appropriate for your farm. Food safety plan templates are available from many sources and a favorite is the “Food Safety Plan 4 You” template created by the University of Minnesota Extension On Farm GAP Education Program.
Paying for the audit
Audits cost $108 an hour to pay for the MDA auditor’s time and for the USDA to review the audit. You will only complete the sections that pertain to your farm and audit; i.e. if you don’t have a packshed, you would only do parts 1 and 2, not 3, as that is the packinghouse section. Generally the process runs about $300 – $700. The audit needs to be completed annually.
Important: The MDA has a cost-share program that can reimburse you for up to 75% of the cost of the audit once you have the audit certificate, making the out of pocket costs much lower. Read more about the cost share here.
Farms say that once their food safety plan is created and put into use it really helps them with efficiency and worker training, as they are create policies and systems for activities that happen on the farm. Food safety should be part of your entire business plan and can help improve the quality and safety of your fresh produce, expand your markets, and enhance your brand, regardless of if you choose to get a GAP audit for market access purposes.
Here is a factsheet on navigating the GAP audit process: https://extension.umn.edu/growing-safe-food/navigating-usda-gap-audit-process
To set up an audit with the MN Dept of Agriculture, see contact information here: 651-201-6067 or https://www.mda.state.mn.us/fruit-and-vegetable-inspections
If you have any questions about your food safety plan or preparing for a GAP audit please send us an email or call firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-480-7710.