By Billy Mitchell, NFU Food Safety Training Coordinator
Over the past year, Mary Mcgraw and Blain Becktold provided outreach and education with the Michigan Farmers Union as part the Local Food Safety Collaborative, a cooperative agreement with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). We asked them to take a break to reflect back on this past year, sharing some of what they learned and why this type of work is so important to them and the farmers they work with.
Where do you work?
Mary McGraw: My company is Celtic Acres LLC. I do a variety of consulting work including training and education.
Blain Becktold: I worked for USDA at the Farm Service Agency for 27 years. Being able to retire at an early age, I started Down On The Farm LLC. I assist farmers and food processors in a variety of government and assistance programs. Food safety is one the programs I provide guidance on. I write food safety handbooks with standard operating procedures, provide employee training and third party audit assistance. I am also very involved with Industrial Hemp, both growing and processing industrial hemp products.
What motivates you to do food safety work?
Mary: My early background was in Quality Analysis and Quality Control in food manufacturing and have many experiences in farming produce. Additionally, I have done work in worker safety. To me it just made sense to combine these experiences to do my part helping farmers further a culture of safety and provide healthy and nutritious food to their customers.
Blain: I know that by making small changes at the farm level, growers can provide safe and reliable food.
Why is food safety a good thing for Michigan farmers?
Mary: Michigan has a diverse farming industry. Community Supported Agriculture is on the rise as is a focus on local foods first and farm to table. This gives farmers access to new markets and allows for beginning farmers to find a niche in the market and develop that niche. When the market gardeners employ food safety it improves the customer experience while helping the local economy.
Blain: Michigan Farmers grow produce for millions of consumers. Having consumer confidence in a safe food supplier, such as Michigan food products, is good for Michigan’s diverse produce growers.
What is something new that a farmer taught you this year?
Mary: I am always aware that farming is difficult and tend to think locally. This past year my eyes were opened to the imported fruits and vegetables that are coming into the country directly competing with the local farmers and seriously threatening their markets. So not only is farming hard and subjected to many environmental factors such as battling spring freezes, windstorms and hail, they are also battling with other countries for their share of the market and being able to compete economically.
If you could give a farmer one piece of food safety advice, what would it be?
Mary: Write a Farm Food Safety Plan. Use this as a living document to grow with your farm. Let your customers know your committed to providing safe, healthy, and nutritious food for their family.
Blain: Attitude! Your approach and attitude towards food safety on your farm will be picked up by your employees. A positive one, will ensure your farm provides safe products to consumers.
To keep up to date with future work from the Michigan Farmers Union, visit https://michiganfarmersunion.org/. For more food safety resources, please visit the Local Food Safety Collaborative website along with the Food Safety Resource Clearinghouse for a curated source of food safety guides, factsheets, templates, and more. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates on the latest food safety news.
This project website is supported by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award 1U01FD006921-01 totaling $1,000,000 with 100 percent funded by FDA/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by FDA/HHS, or the U.S. Government.
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