As fall begins, the many local and regional deals start winding down but industry debate heats up on how these smaller growers should adapt food safety practices.
On the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay, east of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, J. Allen Swann, co-owner of Swann Farms, Owings, Md., sells strawberries, sweet corn and peaches to small grocery stores and roadside stands within 50 miles.
He plans to pick corn through early October and finish peaches on Labor Day weekend, a week earlier than normal because of this summer’s abnormally high temperatures.
A member of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee, Swann said one set of food safety standards for all growers actually builds a wall between small and large growers.
“Some of these bigger packers don’t like the word ‘local,’” Swann said.
“They see it as a threat. Some of the big shippers and packers view the local producers as competition. Everyone needs competition, which makes you better, so it shouldn’t be feared.”
Because smaller growers talk with consumers — some who they know by name — Swann said many consider themselves public relations agents for large national shippers on the other side of the country.
Consumers who hold negative opinions of large corporations including banks and insurance companies could harbor similar views against “big ag” if regulations drive many small farmers out of business, he said.
“What would happen if we got rid of all small growers and all of our food comes from big operations far removed from where they are sold?” Swann said.
“We would be looked at as the big banks that were too big to fail. We wouldn’t be very popular and would be just another mega-business the consumer would have to deal with and would feel they’re getting beat up by.”
Swann said he and other small growers understand the need for safe practices but they feel threatened by industry consensus for one set of standards.
Standard sanitation practices such as testing irrigation water are easier to cost rationalize over four- to five-acre growing operations than installing expensive bar code labeling systems.
Not a threat
Jamie Graiff, partner with Daniel Graiff Farms LLC, Newfield, N.J., said growers shouldn’t consider the coming rules as threatening.