County News

County loosens the rules to serve more locally-grown foods

The Verde Valley Agricultural Coalition has a lot to celebrate. By working with the Yavapai County Community Health Department to develop “Guidance for Certified Kitchen Use of Whole Vegetables, Fruits and Nuts Grown in Yavapai County,” it significantly loosened restrictions that kept area chefs from using locally-grown produce in their restaurants.

“Prior to 2016, you could only purchase produce from a farmer that was Good Agricultural Practices certified,” said Eric Marcus, Sustainable Economic Development Initiative executive director and VVAC’s immediate past chairman, during his remarks to farm and restaurant stakeholders Thursday, Nov. 3, at Yavapai College Sedona Center. “The challenge is, Arizona doesn’t have enough inspectors to certify that.”

According to Marcus, in order to become GAP-certified a farmer typically needs to arrange for the transport of an inspector to conduct the training and certification — a task that can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $30,000.

“This regulation had the unintended consequence of making it impossible for small farms to compete with large farms,” Marcus said. “Our principal goal now is to encourage conversations between farmers and chefs .... to help spread the word about where local and healthy food is.”

According to Reds Restaurant Executive Chef Ron Moler, “Guidance for Certified Kitchen Use of Whole Vegetables, Fruits and Nuts Grown in Yavapai County” places responsibility on certified kitchen managers to ensure that produce is handled properly by the farmer. This allows small growers to provide restaurants with other types of evidence other than GAP-certification to prove their food safety practices.

“There’s a lot of demand,” Moler said regarding local produce. “We want to know more farmers and the items they offer .... We want to take those items and make them exciting to people. The question is, how much can we successfully buy?”

Steve Murdock of Murdock Family Farms, a family owned and operated six-acre organic farm in Camp Verde that has operated for eight years, said that he has been successfully selling to markets and restaurants as far away as Phoenix for some time, but that the new easing of regulations in the county has allowed for increased and easier transactions.

“Chefs are great,” Murdock said. “Chefs know good quality stuff and what they want .... They need it. You can’t go to the store and get what I grow.”

Cecil Newell, an environmental health manager with YCCHS, praised the easing of certification requirements, saying that he had gone to every effort to “get government out of the way as much as possible, allowing farmers and chefs to work together.”


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