After approximately three years, the Food Safety Fellowship (funded by a Food Safety Outreach Program grant from the USDA) came to a close in early December. Launched during the height of the pandemic, this virtual fellowship brought together farmers from all over the country and Puerto Rico to take a different approach to food safety than the typical punitive and regulatory methods that many veggie growers have experienced. Namely, what does food safety look like when we approach it from a place of community care?
After years of Zoom meetings and virtual workshops, we were hungry for a chance to gather in-person. Hosted in Caguas, Puerto Rico by El Departamento de la Comida and in partnership with La Semilla Food Center, the four Young Farmers Food Safety Fellows embodied the principles of care that we had been discussing for so many years. In addition to organizing on-the-ground logistics, the El Depa team provided beautiful meals for Fellows and community members and facilitated simultaneous interpretation in line with their principles of language justice to ensure everyone could share stories and listen in the language closest to their heart.
After the first day of arrivals and introductions, we got to work with what the team at El Depa calls a brigada – a work brigade. It was an all-hands-on-deck day, cultivating and mulching terraced hillside garden beds and mixing and laying a concrete foundation for a wash and pack station. The second day consisted of an Intercambio de Saberes, an exchange of knowledge that prompted excellent conversations and reflections among the more than 30 attendees from all over Puerto Rico! We reflected on principles found in the Produce Safety Alliance resources and how to apply them on a small farm (check out “A Small Farmer’s Practical Guide to Food Safety’‘ on our website! ¡También está disponible en español!).
Our team was left reflecting on the strength of community, Young Farmers’ role in federal policy change for all farmers, and the power of generosity. Please join us in sending massive gratitude to our four fellows – Alexis, Alicia, Lorig, and tara – for their perseverance, grace, knowledge, and vision. We wish them all of the best as they continue to seed positive impacts in their farming communities.