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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Cleanliness comes first at 10 R.I. farms certified by URI, DEM for Good Agricultural Practices

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

KINGSTON, R.I. -- August 31, 2004 -- Rhode Islanders now have another reason to buy their vegetables directly from local farmers. Not only is locally grown produce fresher than that available in most supermarkets, it's also certified for its cleanliness.

Ten farms in the state were recently certified for their good farming and food handling practices as part of the voluntary Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) program sponsored by the University of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.

The newly certified farms are East West Farm in Charlestown, J.R. Hallene Farm in Exeter, Moosup River Farm in Greene, and Woodvale Farm in West Greenwich. They join six farms that were certified in 2003 in the program's first year: Hallene Farm in Exeter, Manfredi Farms in Westerly, Maplewood Farm in Portsmouth, Quonset View Farm in Portsmouth, Sweet Berry Farm in Middletown, and Walker Farm in Little Compton.

The farms received their certification this month following an extensive training program and an audit of their facilities and work practices by DEM’s Division of Agriculture.

"In recent years the U.S. has seen an increasing number of documented food borne disease outbreaks traced to fresh vegetables and fruits," said URI food safety educator Lori Pivarnik.

"GAP is designed to get farmers to take stock of what they’re doing and minimize the potential for contamination."

Added Ken Ayars, R.I. Division of Agriculture chief: "This is a voluntary program that we want to have in place as a means of recognizing farms for the use of good management practices, with emphasis on food safety. This has value to consumers as well, and is especially relevant to Rhode Island, given that the majority of Rhode Island grown produce is sold directly to the public through roadside stands and farmers markets. Rhode Island is in fact ranked second nationally on per farm direct marketing sales of edible farm products through roadside stands, farmers markets, etc."

The farmers all believe that the certification will help in the marketing of their produce.

"It definitely makes a difference at the farmer's markets when I tell people that we're certified," said Margaret Carey of Maplewood Farm. "They're happy to know that the food they're buying has been prepared according to federal guidelines, so it helps us sell our products."

The New England-wide program was launched in 2001 after URI’s Food Safety Education Program received a $480,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Following guidelines established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Pivarnik and her colleague Martha Patnoad solicited interested farmers.

"These ten farms are now certified that they’ve taken steps to minimize microbial hazards," explained Patnoad. "Other farmers might also take the same steps, but these ten farms are going the extra mile to make sure certain practices are in place."

The primary issues that farmers must address to reduce contamination are worker hygiene, irrigation water quality, proper use of fertilizers (especially manure), produce handling and contaminated run-off.

For Further Information: Martha Patnoad 874-2960