U.S – The Food Conservancy, a non-profit organization aimed at getting more food to local farmers, is partnering with small-scale Northwest Arkansas (NWA) farmers to expand access to local food through the state’s first Group Good Agriculture Practices (GAP) certification from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The recently completed voluntary audit programs by McGarrah Farms, Rivercrest Orchard and the Center for Arkansas Farms and Food (CAFF) allows them to sell to schools, grocers, wholesalers and other entities that require GAP-certified products.

“Growers are eager to meet the demand for high-quality, locally grown food. By providing technical assistance and removing the financial burden of the certification process, we can help them bring more products from their farms to families and businesses’ tables,” said Diana Endicott, executive director of the Food Conservancy and founder and director of Good-Natured Family Farms.

GAP is a voluntary, user-funded food safety program created by the USDA to verify that fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled and stored to USDA recommendations. The small fruits and vegetable growers are often unable to participate in the program due to the high costs. This limits smaller growers’ access to retail and institutional markets.

The Group GAP program tested by Endicott gave farmers, food hubs and related organizations the ability to pool resources and share certification costs. As part of the Northwest Arkansas Food Systems, the Food Conservancy is supporting Group GAP training and audit cost through grants from the Walton Family Foundation.

The initiative provides new and existing farmers land, technical assistance and capital to give them the ability to grow their ventures and access new supply chains. The first of these farms earned their certification in Sept.

“Rivercrest Orchard has become the region’s ‘Place to Pick’, but we also want our offerings to be available beyond the confines of our acreage and local farmers’ markets. With this Group GAP certification, we can scale up to bring our quality produce to new markets across Northwest Arkansas,” said owner and operator Dennis McGarrah.

Northwest Arkansas has a rich farming heritage, and for much of the 20th century, its dedicated farmers were known as some of the country’s most prolific growers of fruits and vegetables. While the region has experienced renewed interest in small-scale farming over the past decade, an aging farm workforce and the rising cost of land have made farming inaccessible for too many residents.

The Food Conservancy of Northwest Arkansas is focused on reestablishing the area with small and mid-sized diverse family farms and food producers to create economic opportunity and provide healthy food.

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