Many commercial markets will not purchase from producers who do not have GAP certification. For small-scale farmers who don’t have the training or resources to navigate the process, this poses a barrier to tapping into new markets and becoming economically viable. Currently, only 16 producers in the state of Maryland are GAP certified.

The Filling in the GAPs program was initiated to support a healthier food system in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. The Conservation Fund has partnered with FRESHFARM Markets with support from with support from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) to provide GAP training and certification support to help local, small and growing farms enter new distribution markets and sustain economic viability. 

Our Role

The Fund and FRESHFARM Markets are making GAP certification more accessible by providing on-farm training for farmers in target geographic areas in the watershed, which were chosen using data mapping that identified the intersection of high agricultural nutrient loads and clusters of potential farmers needing certification.

The training involves a “mock audit” of GAP requirement areas, such as worker health and hygiene, safe irrigation methods, post-harvest handling practices, traceability procedures and record keeping. The mock audits, which are voluntarily hosted on GAP-certified farms, give farmers first-hand experience of what to expect during a GAP certification audit, ensuring that they pass the audit, which can be expensive for farmers the first time around. FreshFarm GAP Training PA Farmer participants during the first FRESHFARM GAP training in Shipensbury, Pennsylvania.
The Fund worked with food safety educators from the Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension, state departments of agriculture and USDA offices to develop the mock audit process. In addition to providing training to prepare farmers for the GAP process, this program will also provide ongoing technical assistance to ensure farmers are prepared to host the GAP inspection on their own farm. During the second phase of this program, the Fund and FRESHFARM Markets will connect newly-certified farmers with markets that require GAP certification to open up economic growth opportunities to sustain these small and growing farms.

Why This Project Matters

This project is supporting a healthy food system in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed by providing access for farmers to GAP certification, and for consumers to fresh, local and safe food. A strong, sustainable food system has multiple benefits—it makes local farmers more economically viable so they are able to continue to sustain local jobs, industry and a rich heritage in agriculture; makes healthy, locally-grown food available to the community to contribute to a healthy lifestyle and diet; and protects the area’s land and water resources by providing support to implement environmentally sustainable practices and conserve working farmlands.

Funding for this project was supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service through grant 15-FMPPX-VA-0306. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USDA.