AMHERST, Mass. – The Student Farm at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has achieved Commonwealth Quality certification from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR).
According to MDAR, Commonwealth Quality identifies locally sourced products that are grown, harvested and processed in Massachusetts using practices that are safe, sustainable and don’t harm the environment. Commonwealth Quality-certified growers, producers, harvesters and processors not only meet stringent federal, state and local regulatory requirements, but also employ best management practices and production standards that ensure consumers receive the safest, most wholesome products available.
With $27,000 in support from MDAR and the UNFI Foundation, students at the farm designed and built a portable pack-and-wash station that allows produce to be cleaned, packaged and labeled according to the standards of the federal Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The station is on a flatbed trailer that can be taken to the farm’s growing areas in Amherst and South Deerfield.
“We will now join the list of 100 farms in the state who have this certification which is being recognized as compliant with the Food Safety Modernization Act, thus allowing us to continue selling into our wholesale markets, mainly Big Y Supermarkets,” says farm manager Amanda Brown.
Brown says the farm sells about $15,000 worth of produce to Big Y each year and the earnings are used to support its student programs, which are offered through the Stockbridge School of Agriculture.
“Most importantly, the students enrolled in the farm program this year were able to see farm problem-solving at its best,” says Brown. “We’ve all learned an incredible amount about FSMA requirements and how those translate into reality once on the farm.”
Given its fairly low cost and portability, Brown says the pack-and-wash station could be a model for the region’s small agricultural enterprises that can’t afford new facilities. “It’s ideal for small farmers who are just starting out or leasing land and need to maintain a wholesale market presence but lack the capital for infrastructure improvements that enable compliance,” she says.
The UMass Student Farm plans to share its wash station design through a how-to guide and online postings. Brown will also discuss the CQ certification process and the development of the pack-and-wash station at a public forum on Wednesday, Sept. 14 from 4-6 p.m. at the UMass Crop and Animal Research and Education Center on River Road in South Deerfield.