The slow food movement and farm-to-table eating have become popular in recent years and the driving force behind that movement are farmers and the products that can come out of their harvest.
Now, the Delaware Department of Agriculture is offering a class that will teach farmers how to turn their crops into sought-after foodstuffs, while following applicable food safety guidelines. That means before farmers can sell their home made goods at local farmers markets and farm stands, they first have to go through training with the Department of Agriculture and pass a test proving their knowledge of food borne illnesses and how to prevent them.
"The class benefits folks because it's really about practicing skills and learning how to produce food safely and keep a safe kitchen," said Dan Shortridge, Chief of Community Relations for the Department of Agriculture.
The class is for those who want to produce things such as jams and jellies, breads, cookies cakes, fruit pies, dried fruits and vegetables, herb mixtures, maple or sorghum syrup, or roasted nuts. These foods are all considered low-risk. The class does not certify farmers to sell high-risk foods such as canned goods, meat products or cream pies. Additional training is needed for those items.
"We really want people to become aware of how to handle food and to take steps to make sure their food is safe," said Sue Snider, who is in charge of teaching the class.
There are potential hazards when it comes to working with food. The class will teach farmers about these risks and help them learn to combat them, she said. Those enrolled in the class will learn about foodborne pathogens and how to control them, how to reduce the risk of foodborne illness; create a plan for controlling potential microbial problems; and understand state regulations.
"I started teaching the class because I felt we could meet a need. People had farm products without going through public health," Snider said.
Cynthia Turner completed the class last spring along with two of her daughters. The homeschooling mother of 11 was looking for a way for their 23-acre hobby farm, Wisteria Lane, to bring in a little extra money. She and her children baked cookies, fruit pies and breads and sold them at the Millville and Fenwick Island farmers markets.
"The class reminded me of safety, it helped me learn how long food can be out, what counts as perishable food and what exactly we are allowed to cook and sell," Turner said.
However Turner did say that her family will most likely not be returning to the farmers markets this summer because their endeavors turned out to be less profitable than hoped.
Once participants complete the class they will be authorized to sell their goods at farmers markets and roadside stands, but they will have to undergo kitchen inspections by the Department of Agriculture.
Page 2 of 2 - "Some people take the class and decide not to go forward because what they planned to do may not have been the safest kind of food," Snider said.
The class will be taught in two parts. On March 19 Snider will teach farmers how to comply with state regulations, how to reduce the risk of food borne illness and how to handle food. The second part will be taught online on March 26. Both classes will be held at the Department of Agriculture offices in Camden. The classes will be from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. There is no charge for taking the class. To register for the training, contact Debra Whitmore at firstname.lastname@example.org or (302) 698-4540.