Straight talk, from real farmers, in their own words.
Today, consumers have many questions about agriculture and there seems to be no shortage of so-called experts willing to talk to them about the subject. Often, in our crowded world of traditional and social media, it is only the most outrageous headlines that are noticed, but not necessarily the most accurate. So, we asked a group of farmers if they would be willing to speak to you about agriculture. Several producers took us up on our offer. Each month we will feature one of their stories in an on-going series called “Why We Care”. They will talk about everything from food safety to renewable energy. It’s straight talk, from real farmers and ranchers, in their own words. We encourage you to read and comment on these stories and to share them with others.
At Lewis Taylor Farms, we make food safety a full-time job.
It’s our moral responsibility to have an effective food safety program so our products are always safe to eat. Our long-term viability as a farm business also depends on it. Nothing drew attention to this more than the listeria outbreak in cantaloupes from Jenson Farms in Colorado in 2011. It reduced cantaloupe markets 40%.
We farm near Tifton, Ga., and we don’t want to do anything that comes back to hurt the industry. We have to have healthy products.
I helped start the food safety push in Georgia. When I was president of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Association from 1996 to 1998 and again from 2007 to 2008, people had already started talking about how important it is to check for salmonella, E. coli and listeria. We went to the commissioner of agriculture and asked if we could do a voluntary food safety program.
That resulted in the Georgia Good Agricultural Practices Food Safety Program (GA GAPP), which started in 1999. Our farm was one of the first in the state to become safety compliant. The program hired people to do food safety like it should be done, with field and packing house checks and audits. GA GAPP has evolved into Produce Food Safety Services, and is available to any grower across the nation. It covers all aspects of food safety and helps each farm develop economical ways improve food safety.
Food safety is a full-time job for the staff at Lewis Taylor Farms.
Food safety is only as good as its weakest link, and it’s our job to be certain there are no weak links. Each farm has a responsibility to go above and beyond to make sure it’s safe.
When you’re running multiple lines, you have to monitor them all. We have two people here whose only job is to check, monitor, and clean. Every hour, they take measurements. The same guys do this year after year. That’s what it takes to stay on top of it.
After the cantaloupe listeria situation caused such problems, I became one of the founders of the Eastern Cantaloupe Growers Association (ECGA) in 2013. Growers wanted to verify that they were doing everything they could for food safety. Just as important, we wanted consumers to have confidence in our product.
ECGA developed a food safety matrix with stringent standards that have to be met. That certification means something.
Here on our farm, since 2000, we have had a full-time food safety coordinator, Peter Germishuizen, who puts his stamp on top of those other guys monitoring things. He’s in the field, at the packing house, everywhere, making sure everyone complies with the food safety standards. He even checks field toilets to make sure sanitation is what it should be.
In 1985, my partner, Ed Walker, and I bought Lewis Taylor Farms from family members. We started in the transplant business. Now we have 6,000 acres of produce along with cotton and peanuts and pine seedlings. I’d like for our grandchildren to be able to farm this land if they want to do it. But we have to be vigilant on food safety issues. One mistake with that, and it could all be over.