Source: UNIVERSITY OF VERMONT submitted to
Sponsoring Institution
National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Project Status
Funding Source
Reporting Frequency
Accession No.
Grant No.
Project No.
Proposal No.
Multistate No.
Program Code
Project Start Date
Sep 1, 2016
Project End Date
Aug 31, 2019
Grant Year
Project Director
Grubinger, V. P.
Recipient Organization
Performing Department
Non Technical Summary
This project helps small and medium-size fruit and vegetable farms that do not have to comply with FSMA to reduce risk and maintain credibility in the marketplace. University of Vermont Extension, the Vermont Vegetable and Berry Growers Association and state agencies have developed and tested the Community Accreditation for Produce Safety program, which uses an on-line plaform to assist farms with writing robust produce safety plans and documenting their implementation. By 2018, 150 farms will complete that process to earn accreditation.
Animal Health Component
Research Effort Categories

Knowledge Area (KA)Subject of Investigation (SOI)Field of Science (FOS)Percent
Goals / Objectives
The long term goals of the project are to help these farms reduce risk and maintain credibility in the marketplace. University of Vermont (UVM) Extension has collaborated with the Vermont Vegetable and Berry Growers Association (VVBGA) and state agencies to develop Community Accreditation for Produce Safety or CAPS. This farmer-driven program uses an on-line platform where farmers learn about best practices, write produce safety plans that address required food safety practices, and then document the implementation of their plans. CAPS is not a regulatory program but its requirements are consistent with FSMA guidelines. These requirements have been identified by an advisory board of VVBGA farmers, state regulators and produce buyers. CAPS is a voluntary program that helps the small and medium-size farmers that comprise the VVBGA membership to adopt best practices for produce safety, and then provides public recognition for doing so.Sixty-eighty farms have enrolled in CAPS for 2016. These farms have completed their on-line produce safety plans and, over the course of the growing season, will document the implementation of these plans by uploading the required materials to their on-line farm folder. These materials will be reviewed by teams of farmers and agency personnel at the end of the year. Farms completing all required documentation will become accredited by the VVBGA for the subsequent growing season. An additional 17 farms are using the CAPS platform in 2016 to complete their produce safety plans but do not wish to become accredited.This project will provideongoing program management with the goal of increasing participation in CAPS by 50% per year over the next two years. One hundred farms are expectedto complete the accreditation process in 2017 and 150 farms will complete the process in 2018. In 2017 and 2018 an additional 25 and 40 farms, respectively, are expected to use the CAPS platform to complete produce safety plans without seeking accreditation.
Project Methods

Progress 09/01/16 to 08/31/19

Target Audience:The target audience reached by this project were small- and medium-size produce farms located in or nearby Vermont. These are primarily farms that are 'qualified exempt' from the FSMA-PSR. These are farms thathave average annual food sales of less than $550,551 from 2016-2018, and the majority of their sales are to consumers, restaurants, or retail food establishments in the same state or within 275 miles. The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM) estimates that only 14% of the 1,060 farms selling produce in Vermont are fully covered by the FSMA-PSR. Changes/Problems: Nothing Reported What opportunities for training and professional development has the project provided?Project personnel promoted the CAPS program, and provided training on produce safety practices to both CAPSparticipants and the general commercial grower community through the Vermont vegetable and berry grower newsletter (974 subscribers), the VVBGA listserv (670 subscribers), annual presentations the VVBGA annual meetings (200 attendees), and at on-farm workshops (approximately 100 attendees annually). Individual consultations / trainings were provided to approximately 300 growers annually during on-farm visits, emails and phone conversations.The program manager also has good working relationships with about a dozen produce buyers across the Northeast, and engaged them in understanding and supporting CAPS and CAPS-Plus through webinars and presentations at fod safety meetings. How have the results been disseminated to communities of interest?Annual reports on the CAPS program have been delivered to the Vermont Vegetable and Berry Growers Association board of directors, and a summary of the program's results have been published each year in Annual Meeting booklet of the VVBGA. What do you plan to do during the next reporting period to accomplish the goals? Nothing Reported

What was accomplished under these goals? There are125 farms enrolled toearn CAPS accreditation in 2019. These farms reported growing a total of 1,903 acres of vegetables, plus 287 acres of fruit and berry crops, and 1.25 million ft2 of greenhouse crops. Using 2017 U.S. Census of Agriculture data for Vermont we estimate theaggregate annual sales of produce by these farms to be $21.8 million. The average CAPS farm grows 15.2 acres of vegetables, 2.3 acres of fruit, and has gross annual produce sales of $174,400. The USDA currently defines small family farms as those with gross cash farm income less than $350,000. Of the 125 CAPS farms in 2019, 26 farms are also enrolled in CAPS-Plus. For the past two years, Hannaford Supermarkets (189 Northeast stores) has been accepting CAPS-Plus in lieu of USDA-GAP audits. In 2019, Wegman's Supermarkets (99 Northeast stores) will also accept CAPS-Plus in lieu of GAP, as will the Deep Root Organic Cooperative, a wholesale produce distributor serving New England and Mid-Atlantic stores, with 23 member farms. CAPS farms are located primarily in Vermont but we have been engaging farms from other states, especially those with markets in Vermont. Of the 125 CAPS farms in 2019, one hundred fourare located in Vermont, ten are in NY, fourare in NY, three are in ME, threeare in Quebec, and one is in RI. Working with the CAPS advisory group (composed of members of theVermont Vegetable and Berry Growers Association board of directors, specialists from University of Vermont Extension, and personnel from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food and Markets) templates were developed for growers to enter the information required to earn CAPS accreditation.These requirements were modified during the course of this project to better harmonize with the FSMA-Produce Safety Rule and USDA-GAPS, while recognizing the limited recordkeeping capacity of small- and medium-scale farms. There are 18 key areas of risk, described below, that must be addressed to earn CAPS accreditation. The first 12 areas must be included in a farm's approved produce safety plan, the last 6 areas must be documented with records and photos uploaded to a farm's on-line CAPS folder. 1. Land Use History and Farm Map. Farms must identify any on-farm or nearby risk to food safety (flooding, landfills, manure pits, livestock, etc.) and describe a reasonable risk mitigation strategy for any risks. A digital or legible hand-drawn farm map must be provided that shows the location of all fields and relevant structures (e.g. restrooms, cold storage, land-based risks). 2. Manure and Compost Management. Farms must state whether or not they use raw manure and/or make their own compost, and summarize how it is handled. 3. Irrigation Risk Reduction. If farms irrigate, they must describe their system, including a plan to reduce risk of contamination (e.g. drip irrigation, harvest waiting period after overhead irrigation, water testing schedule and results showing low E. coli levels in source water). 4. Container Management and Risk Reduction. Farms must list all major types of crop containers used on the farm, and describe how they are kept clean. 5. Wash and Pack Facility Description and Cleaning Procedures. Farms must describe how and when they execute a routine cleaning plan to lower the contamination risk in their wash-pack facility (e.g. sweeping, tidying, wiping or spraying down surfaces) and how and when they clean more deeply (e.g. scrubbing with soap and water, sanitizing, power spraying). 6. Rodent Management. Farms must describe any rodent issues, and tactics used to minimize damage and contamination (e.g. emptying trash, exclusion, regular cleaning, mowing around buildings, traps and/or poison with description of location, materials and/or services used). 7. Cold Storage Cleaning and Management. Farms that have cold storage must describe their storage unit(s), temperature monitoring system, and describe a cleaning and an inventory management plan to minimize contamination risk. 8. Wholesale Shipping and Traceability. Farms that sell wholesale must upload a photo of shipping label(s) used on case units. Labels must include farm name, physical address and direct contact information. 9. Transportation Cold Chain Maintenance. Farms must describe practices used to keep perishable product cool during transit (e.g. cool morning harvest, short transport time, large transport mass of pre-cooled product, delivery vehicle with refrigeration and/or insulation). 10. Toilet Facilities. All farm personnel must have easy access to toilet facilities (permanent or portable toilet with running water, soap and single-use towels for hand washing) that are no more than a ¼ mile walk or a 5-minute drive away. Facilities must be shown on farm map. 11. Health and Hygiene Policy. Farms must have a written policy and provide it to all employees and each employee must receive training. The policy must: 1) mandate regular and effective hand washing after breaks and before returning to work, 2) describe what employees do if they are sick or injured, 3) state that sick workers shall not wash or handle raw-eaten produce, 4) require that cuts are promptly covered with bandage and glove. 12. Accessible First Aid Kits. All farm personnel must have easy access to first aid kits with cut-care materials. These must be at least as accessible as the toilet facility--ideally more. 13. Employee Training Verification Record. All employees on the farm must have signed a form, which is uploaded, showing that they have been trained on the Health and Hygiene policy. 14. Manure and Compost Records. Records must be uploaded to verify that any manure applied to crop fields has gone through an accepted risk mitigation method (e.g. 90/120-day waiting period) and/or, if composted manure is applied, the records must document the dates of three or more turnings and measurements showing temperature over 131 degrees F for static-pile systems. Any purchased compost applied to fields must have evidence provided that the producer followed risk-reduction practices. 15. Farm Containers Cleaning and Management. Farms must upload photos of all crop containers, and describe methods used to reduce risk of crop contamination (e.g. dedicated containers for harvest, cleaning method and frequency, protected storage). 16. Potable Water Test Results. Farms that wash any produce must test the wash water source annually with a reputable lab, then upload the test results showing zero generic E.coli per 100 ml. 17. Produce Washing System. Farms that wash produce typically consumed raw (e.g. apples, leafy greens) must describe the specific steps, and upload photos, of their wash system. Risk mitigation procedure for dunk tanks must include, at a minimum, two or more successive rinses in clean potable water, and/ or the use of a labeled wash water sanitizer at an effective concentration. 18. Cold Storage Description and Thermometer Requirement. Farms with cold storage must upload photos of their unit(s) and their working thermometer(s). The CAPS-Plus option was added to CAPS because some farms expressed the need for audits in order to satisfy expectations of wholesale buyers. The audits are conducted by VAAFM personnel. Some supermarket buyers now accept CAPS-Plus in lieu of a USDA Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) audit, which is important since GAP audits are no longer being offered by agencies of agriculture in several Northeast states, including Vermont, so growers have to pay for out-of-state auditors if they want to sell to certain wholesale markets.


    Progress 09/01/17 to 08/31/18

    Target Audience:The target audience for the CAPS programare the 360 member farms of the Vermont Vegetable and Berry Growers Association, and indirectly, the entities they seel their produce to. Changes/Problems: Nothing Reported What opportunities for training and professional development has the project provided?The CAPS coordinator worked closely with the VAAFM to develop trainings for VAAFM personel conducting CAPS-Plus audits. Lessons learned from CAPS farms about practical applications of "best practices" in produce safety are being formulated into case studies for sharing on Extension web sites and at educational meetings. How have the results been disseminated to communities of interest?Recruitment for the CAPS program and announcements about deadlines, farm participation, and accrediation are made through the VVBGA listserv (with 670 people, primarlily VVBGA members but also agricultural service providers).Monthly meetings with produce safety personnal at the VAAFM alsomaintain colaboration on this program and onoing efforts to engage farms in FSMA compliance/understanding. Presentation on CAPS program progressis made annually to the VVBGA board of directors, who coninute to provide some funding for the program and who, each year,authorize the CAPS coordinator to accredit farms that complete all the requirements. What do you plan to do during the next reporting period to accomplish the goals?Farms will be recruited for new/renewed participation in CAPS during 2019. An effort is underway to provide streamlinedparticipation for renewing farms that will make little or no change to their current produce safety plan and standard operating procedures.

    What was accomplished under these goals? In 2018,135 farms used the CAPS platform to write their produce safety plans. Of these, 113 enrolled in CAPS to be eligile for accreditation (review of their plans and documentation of implementation). Participants are from Vermont (93),NH (10), NY (4), Quebec (4), RI (1),and ME (1). One hundred and ten ofthesefarms are expected to complete all requirements and"pass" CAPS toearn accreditation, or about 97 percent. These farmswill receive the CAPS "e-badge" or certificate for use during 2019 for marketing purposes. In total, these farms reported growing 2,489 acres of produce. Of the farms earning CAPS accreditation,17 farms also enrolled in and completed the new CAPS-Plus program, which adds/requires a traceability plan, mock recall, and an on-farm auditby the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM).CAPS-Plus farms sell produce to Hannaford Supermarkets, which has approved the use of CAPS-Plus in place of the USDA-GAPS audits they normally require. These farms expect to sell $100,000 of additional produce to Hannaford as a result of their participation the CAPS-Plus program.


      Progress 09/01/16 to 08/31/17

      Target Audience:Commercial vegetable and berry farms in Vermont and the region. Changes/Problems: Nothing Reported What opportunities for training and professional development has the project provided?Presentations on the CAPS program were given at the annual meeting of the Vermont Vegetable and Berry Growers Assoication in January 2017, and at the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont winter conference in February 2017. How have the results been disseminated to communities of interest? Nothing Reported What do you plan to do during the next reporting period to accomplish the goals? Nothing Reported

      What was accomplished under these goals? As of the April 9, 2017 deadline for enrolling in the Community Accreditation for Produce Safety (CAPS) program, 125 growers registered on the CAPS site, and at least started writing their produce safety plans. Of these, 91 farms signed up for CAPS accreditation in 2017 (registered and also paid the $100 fee.) These farms had to submit completed drafts of their produce safety plans for review by teams of external reviewers (made up of CAPS advisory board farmers and agricultural service providers.) The level of participation in the 2017 CAPS accreditation program is 44% greater than in 2016 (up from 63 farms). The 91 participating farms reported a total of 1,550 acres in production, and 890,000 sq. ft. of greenhouse production. Based on 2012 U.S. Census of Agriculture data for Vermont ($5,459 gross sales per acre of vegetables; $13,587 gross sales per sq. ft. of greenhouse vegetables and herbs) these farms have aggregate sales of fresh produce valued at $20.6 million. As of June 6, all 91 CAPS participants succeeding in making any revisions to their plans required by reviewers, and they submitted their final produce safety plans for 2017. This 100% success rate is explained by two factors. First, compared to last year, the overall quality of the plans was excellent, and most farms had very little work to do. (The recently-revised on-line CAPS platform helped growers write better plans.) Second, approximately 25% of participants received at least one personal reminder to make revisions in a timely fashion. About 10% of participants also received significant personal assistance, requiring 30 hours of staff time to help them complete the required revisions. During the growing season these 91 farms will be uploading the necessary documentation of plan implementation in order to achieve CAPS accreditation at the end of 2017.