Many urban farmers and gardeners are not aware that in order to legally sell their produce, they need to be an “approved source.” According to the California Retail Food Code (CalCode), "an approved source operates using current public health principals and practices, and generally recognized industry standards that protect public health." Luckily, there are many ways for producers to become an approved source—including some new and innovative programs in the San Francisco North Bay!
The core concept is simple: food sold to the public must be safe to eat. In order to ensure this, CalCode requires all retail food facilities to obtain food from an “approved source,” ensuring traceability back to the original producer so the origin of any contaminated product or unsafe food can be located. The most common ways to become an approved source are:
- Certified Producer's Certificate (CPC) for selling at farmers markets from the County Agricultural Commissioner's Office.
- Operator Identification Number for pesticide use from the County Agricultural Commissioner's Office.
- Organic Producer certified by an official third party organic certifier (if the expected organic gross sales exceed $5,000), registered with the California Department of Food and Agriculture Organic Program, and submitted to the County Agricultural Commissioner's Office.
- Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) registered with the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
However, many urban farmers and gardeners fall through the bureaucratic cracks. Disconnected from the farming know-how about how to become an approved source or too small to necessitate the traditional industry documentation, they unknowingly put themselves and the people who eat their produce at risk. Fortunately, three San Francisco North Bay Counties—Mendocino, Napa, and Sonoma—have developed an innovative solution by creating their own Approved Source programs.
Designed with urban farmers and culinary, home, school, and community gardeners in mind, these Approved Source programs enable growers to legally sell or donate their produce to retail food and food preparation facilities such as restaurants, soup kitchens, food banks, and school meal programs. These voluntary, practical, and no-cost programs help growers meet the intention of CalCode's Approved Source through transparency and best management practices for food safety. Growers simply register online with their business name and contact information which provides the necessary traceability, and they self-certify that they follow common-sense best management practices that reduce food safety risks from contamination and the transmission of pathogens through water, soil amendments, worker hygiene, and post-harvest handling. Interested in learning more? Read on to hear how each of these programs developed.
Napa County's Best Management Practices Agreement for a Garden to become an “Approved Source” was developed in 2012 to address the growing popularity of culinary gardens popping up at Napa Valley restaurants and wineries. The NapaLocal Food Advisory Council worked on the topic, forming a subcommittee comprised of County staff from the Agricultural Commissioner's Office, Environmental Health, and the Planning Department, as well as community members. They hosted an approved source roundtable to gauge community concerns and interest. Then they reflected on how the Agriculture Commissioner's office might help culinary gardens attain the approved source designation through the Office's existing services, and they created their own working definition of what it meant to be an “approved source” since CalCode allows for Environmental Health to use their own criteria for determining the designation. From these early conversations, it became clear that there needed to be a different process for growers not served by the typical approved source designations that were already in place.
As a result, the Agriculture Commissioner's Office and the Napa County Environmental Health Department developed a self-certification process for growers based on a set of mutually agreed-upon Best Management Practices. Then the County's Information Technology Services created an online questionnaire that automatically populates the information into a publicly available online database. According to County staff, the development of the program took a cooperative effort between the Agricultural Commissioner's Office and Environmental Health, and by working together, they were able to develop something that meets the needs of local growers, protects public health, and is easy for the County to manage. Currently, the program has 26 producers registered, including culinary gardens at restaurants and wineries as well as educational gardens at schools, colleges, and nonprofit organizations.
Sonoma County Approved Produce Gardener Certificate was based on the success of Napa's program and developed by the Sonoma County Department of Health Services, the Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner's Office, and UC Cooperative Extension, with assistance from the County's legal counsel and Information Services. The team met a half dozen times over a number of months to develop the program, test the website, and deliver two workshops to interested producers. Their primary challenges were how to develop and launch the new program without a budget, how to make the website simple to use and easy to understand, and how to make sure users would actually read the Best Management Practices and agree to abide by them. Based on the successful launch of the program, there are now currently 76 registered growers, with a total of 190 registered since the program was first rolled out in April 2013.
Mendocino County Approved Source(MCAS) was launched just this year and developed cooperatively with Mendocino County Environmental Health, the Agriculture Commissioner, Information Services, and the Mendocino County Food Policy Council. The goals behind the program were to protect food safety while opening new markets for local, small-scale produce growers in order to support local economic development. Interestingly, although their program is designed primarily for Mendocino growers, MCAS welcomes growers from neighboring counties to register, in hopes of fostering greater reciprocity between the other North Bay counties and enabling growers to expand to markets beyond county boundaries. In less than a year, the program already has 19 producers certified, including a couple from neighboring Lake County.
For more information:
- Napa County - Napa County Best Management Practices Agreement for a Garden to Become an “Approved Source”
- Sonoma County - Sonoma County Approved Produce Gardener Certificate
- Mendocino County - Mendocino County Approved Source (MCAS) Program
- And for another similar program, see San Diego County's Conditional Approval of a Culinary Garden Food Source for a Regulated Food Facility
- Author: Andrew M. Sutherland, Ph.D, BCE, UCCE Advisor, SF Bay Area Urban IPM
Pests are an unavoidable part of growing plants or raising animals. Many times, pests are not considered until infestations/infections have become damaging. At such late stages, pesticides may be used to manage these pest issues. Pesticide applications have the potential to negatively impact the local environment and community due to health concerns, nontarget effects (impacts on organisms other than the pests), and contamination of air, soil, groundwater, and surface water. Proponents of urban agriculture may espouse the idea that pests will not be problematic when growing crops or raising livestock organically or "naturally". Such "balance of nature" may exist in natural systems, but agriculture represents a manipulation of nature and will always be subject to some degree of pest pressure.
Additionally, unbeknownst to or misunderstood by some urban farmers, commercial producers of "organic" foods may make just as many applications (or more) of pesticides as their "conventional" counterparts, using materials approved for organic use. Organic pesticides, though usually representing reduced environmental risk and persistence, can nonetheless pose the same hazards discussed above.
Integrated pest management (IPM) has the potential to mitigate some of these concerns. Many have heard the acronym IPM, but few can correctly articulate its meaning. Some folks think that IPM refers to pest management without pesticides…others believe it refers to a reliance on reduced-risk pesticides. Confounding this lack of understanding, each institution or organization seems to offer its own definition of IPM. Upon closer inspection, however, these seemingly disparate definitions all share common themes. Let's now examine the conceptual decision-making process of IPM using the step-wise central tenets of all true IPM programs.
- Education: For pest management to be effective, we need to know a bit about the pest. This means ensuring proper identification of new pests, understanding pest biology and ecology, and knowing what pests to expect in certain situations.
- Prevention: Preventing pests from becoming problems in the first place is a very important theme within IPM. This may involve planting resistant varieties or planting during certain seasons, ensuring proper care and maintenance so that plant/animal immune systems are robust, following proper sanitation protocols, and temporarily quarantining new arrivals to the production area to allow for inspection.
- Monitoring: There must be some way to determine whether pests are present or absent and whether pest density is increasing or decreasing. Monitoring can be as simple as manual/visual inspection during a farm walk or could be as complex as a pest-specific pheromone trapping program. Monitoring requires knowledge about pest biology and ecology and should be done on a regular basis so that data can be compared across time and space.
- Thresholds: There exists, for all pests and situations, some pest density at which commodities will be damaged (damage threshold) or money will be lost (economic threshold) and at which action must be taken to avoid these losses (action threshold). Below these thresholds, pests may not need to be managed at all; predators and parasites often keep pests naturally in check. Once thresholds are reached, as evident through monitoring data, action must be taken.
- Multiple Tactics: Taking action in IPM means using multiple tactics (methods); reliance on a single tactic never qualifies as IPM. Available tactics should be used in an order of "escalating force" such that the most benign approaches are considered and employed first. Physical tactics, such as hand-pulling or cultivation of weeds, should come before biological tactics, such as biological control agents and biopesticides. Chemical tactics (i.e. pesticides) should be considered as the last resorts but may certainly be necessary if other approaches have failed.
- Integration: No tactic used should interfere with another. For instance, application of a broad-spectrum insecticide targeting aphids may also kill predatory beetles feeding on the aphids.
- Evaluation: All good IPM programs have an evaluation component, where practitioners consider whether their approach was successful. What worked? What didn't work? Are pests still a problem? What might we do differently next time? This evaluation process feeds back into the "Education" component of IPM, creating a feedback loop and informing IPM practitioners for the next time they do battle with the same pest.
This decision-making process can be used to successfully manage any pest in any situation, whether it's weeds in a garden bed, rats in an attic, or rot fungi in fruit. To learn more about pest-specific IPM programs, visit these UC IPM web pages:
- UC IPM Online - Vegetables and Melons
- UC IPM Online - Fruit trees, nuts, berries, & grapevines
- UC IPM Online - Pest Notes Library