By Billy Mitchell, FSMA Training Coordinator
Like a moth to a glowing jack-o’-lantern, you may be drawn towards towering shelves of mass-produced candy this Halloween season and tricked into thinking that local treats are a thing of the past. Do not be scared: farm-made, value-added products are alive and well in 2020. The old classics, like jams, jellies, and boiled peanuts, now share space with new a crop of flavors like spicy and ginger carrots, muscadine barbecue sauce, and candied jalapenos. During a year of supply chain scares at the big box stores, the shelves of farmers markets, roadside stands, and small farm online stores are packed with options.
Some farmers grow a specific product with value-add in mind, like strawberries for strawberry jam, and others create products based on harvest surplus. Instead of doing the truly terrifying thing by letting that abundant and delicious product go to waste, Kim Butz from Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) says farmers find “options like canning, freezing, and dehydrating as way a farm could produce value-added products, additional income, and incur less waste.”
Creating any food product, from name brand ice cream to your Uncle B’s Blueberry Cobbler, comes with a bit of risk. If spiders dangling over a cauldron make your skin crawl, that’s nothing compared to the bad bugs and food safety risks that Butz and her farmers face every day – bacteria, listeria, and more! CFSA helps famers eliminate and minimize these risks with by providing outreach and education like their Good Manufacturing Practice for Making Low-Risk Foods manual. This manual helps unravel the tangle of preparing safe food and the keys to navigate local, state, and federal regulations around making local food. With this information, farmers can safely and successfully transform produce into value-added products. After this season of goblins and vampires ends, CFSA will be offering a user-friendly webinar series in the spring of 2021 that Butz says “will address the potential risks, the basic concepts of food preservation, and provide a road map for good manufacturing processes.”
Local food is up against a lot: navigating regulations, keeping up with new rules, and staying socially distant in a close-knit economy that thrives on person-to-person interaction. CFSA, and the work they do with farmers, lets the consumer worry more about how much food they can carry home and less about the potential food safety risks. This Halloween, you could make great-great-grandma Mabel spin in her grave by buying a pie that’s filled with more apple flavor than apples, or you could sweetly support your local economy by looking into what’s been brewed, baked, processed, and gently coated with caramel in your hometown. In the spirit of the season, Butz did have something spooky to add about those candied jalapenos from Cape Fear Pirate Candy, “Ye be warned – Thou cannot eateth just one!”
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