USDA certification offers new opportunities for NWA farmers

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 332 views 

Two Northwest Arkansas farms are the first in the state to receive GroupGAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certification from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

McGarrah Farms in Pea Ridge, Rivercrest Orchard in Fayetteville and the Center for Arkansas Farms and Food (CAFF) — an Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station program through the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture — recently completed the voluntary audit program. The certification allows them to sell local food in larger markets including schools, grocers, wholesalers and other entities requiring GAP-certified products.

GAP is a USDA food safety certification. Due to its high costs — $92 per hour, per inspector, plus mileage — it’s not realistic for small and medium-sized farms, limiting their access to retail and institutional markets.

Under the GroupGAP program, small-scale farmers, food hubs and related organizations can pool resources and share the certification costs.

Springdale nonprofit the Food Conservancy supported the GroupGAP training and audit costs through a grant from the Walton Family Foundation.

The Food Conservancy is a regional partner of Northwest Arkansas Food Systems, an effort by the Walton Family Foundation to get more local food to local people.

“Growers are eager to meet the demand for high-quality, locally grown food,” said Diana Endicott, executive director of the Food Conservancy. “By providing technical assistance and removing the financial burden of the certification process, we can help them bring more products from their farms to families and businesses’ tables.”

According to the Food Conservancy, since 2012, the number of farms growing fruits, nuts and vegetables in Benton and Washington counties increased by 45%.

Dennis McGarrah owns McGarrah Farms. His son, Dennis McGarrah Jr., owns Rivercrest Orchard.

“Rivercrest Orchard has become the region’s ‘place to pick’, but we also want our offerings to be available beyond the confines of our acreage and local farmers markets,” McGarrah Jr. said. “With this GroupGAP certification, we can scale up to bring our quality produce to new markets across Northwest Arkansas.”