By Billy Mitchell, NFU Food Safety Training Coordinator, & Tricia Wancko, NFU Food Safety Grant Coordinator
A visit to the Gullah Farmers Cooperative processing, packing, and distribution facility on St. Helena Island, South Carolina, fills you with the same sense of promise as a freshly tilled field in spring—all the pieces are in place and you can feel the potential for success in the air. The Cooperative, founded in 2010, works to set up a profitable and sustainable local food market for its farmer-members. By investing time, money, and sweat equity, they are ensuring their new facility is as productive and clean as their produce fields. This includes focusing on hygienic design, Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs), and current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs.)
St. Helena, along with the ten Gullah farm operations in the cooperative, is found on the Sea Islands of South Carolina. It is an area that features salted breezes, breath-taking sunsets, and the long-standing agricultural traditions of the Gullah Geechee Community. As the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission explains on their website, “The Gullah Geechee people are descendants of Africans who were enslaved on the rice, indigo and Sea Island cotton plantations of the lower Atlantic coast . . . The nature of their enslavement on isolated island and coastal plantations created a unique culture with deep African retentions that are clearly visible in the Gullah Geechee people’s distinctive arts, crafts, foodways, music, and language.” This deep sense of community and foodways tradition is part of the glue that holds the cooperative together—they work together, trust one another, and rely on each other to meet their high produce quality and food safety standards.
They have also built a strong community of support around the work they are doing. Chad Carter, the Clemson Extension Food Systems and Safety Associate and part of the Food Systems and Safety Program team based out of the Charleston County Cooperative Extension office, has worked with the cooperative’s farmer-members to help integrate food safety considerations into all their decisions. This includes following hygienic design principles to designtheir space and selecting equipment that’s easy to clean and maintain. Kim Butz, the South Carolina Local Produce Safety Coordinator at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (and an expert on GAPs and cGMPs) worked alongside some of the farmer-members as their operations became GAP certified.
This community of support coupled with a tradition of agricultural excellence will enable the Gullah Geechee community’s farm-fresh produce to be found in local grocery stores, institutions, schools, and restaurants. These opportunities help the cooperative reach its goals, which include the ability to market bulk seasonal crops to the Eastern and Southeastern United States, increase access to markets and agricultural resources for Gullah farmers, and secure professional agricultural opportunities for the young people of Gullah communities. To stay up to date, sign up for the Gullah Farmers Cooperative Association newsletter. For food safety resources, please visit the Local Food Safety Collaborative website along with the Food Safety Resource Clearinghouse for a curated source of food safety guides, factsheets, templates, and more. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates on the latest food safety news.
This project website is supported by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award 1U01FD006921-01 totaling $1,000,000 with 100 percent funded by FDA/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by FDA/HHS, or the U.S. Government.
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