By Camilla Posthill, FSMA Project Coordinator, National Farmers Union. National Farmers Union and the Local Food Safety Collaborative are working with family farmers across the country to help keep our food safe. In our “From the Farm” blog series, we’re bringing you food safety stories, opinions, best practices and lessons learned from family farmers across the country!
Meet farmer Sarah Jordan, the Organic Vegetable Farm Manager for White Oak Pastures. White Oak Pastures is a six-generation, 152-year-old family farm in Bluffton, Georgia. They take pride in farming practices that focus on regenerative land management, humane animal husbandry, and revitalizing their rural community. They are fiercely proud of their zero-waste production system that utilizes every part of the animals they pasture-raise and hand-butcher on the farm.
You can shop, dine or stay at the farm! White Oak Pastures provides weekly farm tours for visitors. You can schedule a visit or learn more at https://www.whiteoakpastures.com
We had the pleasure of meeting Sarah at a Produce Safety Alliance (PSA) Grower Training that LFSC hosted at White Oak Pastures. We asked Sarah a few questions about how this historic farm considers food safety in its daily operations.
Q: Please tell us about yourself, Sarah!
A: My name is Sarah Jordan. I am a transplant from New Jersey. I came to farming by way of the mental health field. After graduating from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia with a Bachelor’s in Sociology, I worked in both Chicago and Denver for different mental health agencies. I loved my work, but in the back of my mind I also had the idea of doing some type of gardening/farming… while working with people who have received a mental health diagnosis. When my partner moved to southwest Georgia for a new job, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to see if gardening/farming was something that could actually be a career for me. I started as an intern at White Oak Pastures in August of 2017 and now manage the vegetable production on the farm. I live with my partner, two dogs, and three chickens here in Bluffton, a town of less than 100 people.
Q: What kind of farm operation are you running?
A: A small one! My current staff includes myself, one other full-time farmer, Ty Long, and one part time farmer, Maddie Wilbanks. Currently, we have about two acres planted and we work to grow vegetables for the White Oak Pastures On-Farm Restaurant as well as the White Oak Pastures General Store. All of our vegetables are certified organic. Our team is constantly looking for ways to make the White Oak Pastures Garden more and more of an asset to the farm. This includes upping our game in the coming seasons by growing herbs that can be sold to both the restaurant, as well as our tallow department. We also grow flowers for guest services.
We are lucky to have the opportunity to exercise a lot of freedom in our farming practices. Ty, Maddie, and I are all relatively new to farming, so each day is a learning opportunity. We love trying out interplanting and companion planting and learning from each failure and success. Each day we work towards being more and more ‘no-till’, and while this means more work on the front end, we are hopeful that it will pay off in the long run. This being said, there is nothing more exciting than finding a worm in the soil.
We are also lucky to have plenty of space to grow on. This means that in addition to providing food for the General Store and On-Farm Restaurant, we can also experiment with things like tobacco, colored cotton, and other crops that we are interested in.
Q: What steps have you taken to incorporate and improve food safety into your farm?
A: Both Ty and I have attended the Produce Safety Alliance (PSA) Grower Training. With the help of other departments on the farm, we have ensured that all our produce plots are protected from animal intrusion (and wandering guests!) by installing woven wire fencing. We are vigilant about checking temperatures on our walk-in coolers, recording these practices, and we work closely with our maintenance department to address potential risks or issues. During the journey from the field to the wash station to the consumer, our vegetables come into contact with many different surfaces. It is our responsibility to clean and sanitize the surfaces to prevent harmful pathogens from contaminating the product. Our team now uses approved organic sanitizers in preparing our wash station for processing each harvest. This is important in maintaining our organic certification, as well as making sure that the vegetables we grow remain healthy and safe all the way from the planting stage until the vegetables reach the consumer.
Q: What has been the hardest thing about improving food safety on your farm? Talk to us about some of those challenges and how you’ve addressed them.
A: The hardest thing about improving food safety has been changing routines that had already been established. We had to re-train ourselves to add in new steps to our old routines. With time, we found ways to seamlessly integrate food safety practices into the operation. Simple stuff—like making tools more accessible. For example, we keep a spray bottle of sanitizer next to our stainless-steel wash basins, so it is in plain sight, and therefore we’re easily reminded to use it! We also faced challenges in keeping domestic and wild animals out of areas where our produce is grown. Our fencing crew helped remedy this situation by installing woven wire fencing around the vegetable plots.
Q: Do you have any food safety tools or resources you’d like to recommend?
A: My favorite resource is other farmers! One of the best ways to problem solve is by reaching out to those who are doing the same thing you are and learning from them.
The Local Food Safety Collaborative thanks Sarah and White Oak Pastures for their commitment to food safety!
Connect with White Oak Pastures on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram: @whiteoakpastures