US (KS): Family looks beyond traditional farm business to focus on lettuce, herbs

Daniel and Carol Buck may be farming in the middle of wheat country, but they’re growing crops of a different sort in northwest Kansas. The Bucks grow lettuce and herbs for sale to grocery stores, restaurants, schools, hospitals and individuals in a hydroponic greenhouse on their 4B Farms near Grinnell.

The couple started their produce business in January 2018 and quickly developed a market. Because they’re growing in a greenhouse, they’re able to grow year round and don’t have the problems with wildlife that other growers do. They rely mostly on Facebook and word of mouth for marketing and say they’ve taken advantage of K-State Research and Extension/ Kansas Department of Agriculture training to learn the ins and outs of Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) produce safety rule requirements. They’ve also participated in a Good Agricultural Practices workshop to help them prepare for GAPs audits by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“The food safety challenges in California and Arizona actually benefitted us,” Daniel Buck said of nationwide recalls of romaine lettuce linked to E. coli illnesses in the past couple of years. The Bucks were able to keep selling romaine because they had documented their food safety practices and could demonstrate that their romaine was not tainted. That was especially important earlier this year during a recall. The couple had just added a big customer – the Hays Medical Center, a part of the University of Kansas Health System. “We were the only supplier of romaine that could continue to sell (during the recall) to one of their hospitals.”

“With just Carol and I handling (their lettuce and herbs), it minimizes the chances of food safety problems,” Daniel Buck said.

Participating in K-State Research and Extension/Kansas Department of Agriculture workshops has helped keep basic food safety practices in the forefront of the couple’s business, they said, adding that many of those practices are common sense. One of the important things they’ve changed, however, since working with Extension Produce Safety Associate Cal Jamerson, is to stop wearing gloves as they harvest lettuce and herbs. Going without gloves is allowed in the FSMA guidelines.

“You can feel when your hands are dirty, but you can’t feel if your gloves are dirty,” Carol Buck said. In one circumstance, a customer requires gloves and when handling that customer’s produce, they comply with the buyer’s wishes. Otherwise, they harvest without them.

“We have picked Cal’s brain numerous times. He’s a lifesaver,” Carol Buck said.

Jamerson’s position with K-State Research and Extension is funded by the KDA to assist Kansas fruit and vegetable growers in improving the safety of their produce to meet the FSMA Produce Safety Rule requirements.

Source: Kansas State University (Mary Lou Peter)

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