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SCDA Offers Free Consultations, Grant Opportunities for Produce Farmers


Keisha Rainey’s role as a GAP consultant takes her to a variety of farms around South Carolina. Photos by Keisha Rainey.

Closing the GAP

SCDA Offers Free Consultations, Grant Opportunities for Produce Farmers

Story by Eva MooreSCDA

This story appears in the Feb. 6, 2020 issue of the South Carolina Market Bulletin.

Good agricultural practices, aka GAP, are more than just a good idea for fruit and vegetable growers. Many buyers require farms to be GAP certified, a process that requires a USDA audit and development of a food safety plan.

Fortunately, the South Carolina Department of Agriculture offers free consultations and grant funding for producers seeking GAP certification.

“GAP audits are voluntary,” explains Keisha Rainey, the agency’s GAP consultant. “But if farmers want to sell to produce wholesalers, grocery stores, schools, food hubs — many of those are requiring a GAP certification.” Some buyers require regular GAP certification, while others require the more stringent Harmonized GAP certification. SCDA can help farmers prepare for both.

Rainey has also worked as a fruit and vegetable inspector, which she says has helped her take on the role of consultant.

“Going to audits really helps you get a grasp on your job because you can see it from the auditor’s point of view,” she says.

A consultation isn’t required prior to a GAP audit. But while some GAP requirements are common sense, others can take farmers by surprise, Rainey says.

“There’s a lot of little things people miss, like keeping visitor logs or cleaning logs. People don’t realize there’s all these little steps that are involved. Recordkeeping is a huge part of it — people have been farming for years and never thought to keep some of these records.”

The goal of recordkeeping is traceability, Rainey explains. When farmers and others in the food industry keep detailed records, it’s easier to trace the origin and spread of foodborne illnesses, a big priority for public health authorities and the produce industry.

For Rainey, a big focus is helping farmers find cost-effective ways to be GAP-compliant.

“There are inexpensive ways to have a handwashing station or a breakroom; you can go to CVS and buy a first aid kit. I have an idea for everything,” she laughs.

There is also funding available to cover the costs of GAP certification. SCDA offers USDA-funded cost share grants to offset the costs of certification — up to $750 the first year and $300 in subsequent years.

On March 20, 2020, SCDA is teaming up with the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association to offer a free day-long GAP Workshop. The event runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Phillips Market Center in West Columbia and includes a farm tour at Vertical Roots. To attend, please RSVP by March 16 to Keisha Rainey at 803-727-6556 or

For more information about GAP consultations, contact Keisha Rainey at 803-727-6556 or Grant information is available at

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