Having almost 20 years in the food processing industry, I decided to go back to my roots. My company started expanding its business into working with Farmers in June of 2011. I saw a need in the farming area of our food industry as FDA signed in the Food Safety Modernization Act into Regulatory Law on January 4, 2011.
The specific need I was able to see at the time was for the basics; in setting up programs or systems. I met Mr. Bill in June 2011, 3 weeks & 2 days before his 2nd GlobalG.A.P. Audit was set to take place. Meeting Bill was a lesson in itself. Quite a character but he is one shrewd business man. This man is a college graduate of Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Arkansas, my alumnus college. So I was intrigued to learn how he handled his everyday business tasks and what was being demanded of him in this current industry environment with all the new standards.
Taking advantage of every possible opportunity he sees for his farm’s success while looking to the future each year is a must in his business. After meeting with Bill and discussing his farming process, I decided that this was a great opportunity for me, my business and my natural curiosity with learning new processes and programs. I had not previously worked with the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) Standard called GlobalG.A.P. but today seemed like a good day to start & learn!
Getting the education and sharpening my skills necessary to assist Bill with his GlobalG.A.P. journey was a high priority as one of his customers was immediately demanding the Certification in order to maintain business ties. Like I said earlier, 3 weeks and 2 days before his 2nd year GlobalG.A.P. audit, our audit timeline was set in stone due to required harvesting parameters. The timeline was daunting but hey, I was game if Bill was!
I understood the thought process of farming as it was familiar until I started to fit his Berries By Bill, Inc. Farm’s daily processes into the GFSI Standard. I realized very quickly, I needed some training or an expert to fall back on when I needed my questions answered. As the Standard/Guideline was not interpreted in a similar manner as the other 3 GFSI Standards I had previous experienced. I reached out to find a class for GlobalG.A.P. but no one and I mean NO ONE was training on this subject at the time. So I went into the audit blind and deaf for all purposes other than reading the GG_4.0 Standard and calling our Certification Body for assistance.
We made a fierce case that we were ready for GGV_4.0 Certification and away we went. We find out the day of our 2nd audit that our customer, that was driving this certification process, had a 3 tier system set up and this was our intermediate level audit even though we failed the primary audit in 2010. We took our lumps in the 2011 audit, fixed the issues from both 2010 & 2011 and received a Statement of Conformity letter with our GG_4.0 number.
It took me 8 months, almost to the day to find a GG_4.0 class and this was 7 months after we were audited in 2011. I drove to Hershey, PA to stay at the Hershey Hotel Conference and Training Center for my class, large hardship smelling all that chocolate – I know. Through this class, I made 2 good contacts for future assistance. Over the year since 2011, we researched, made changes and upgrades to our systems and came back the next year, 2012, ready to go for the GG_4.0 Certification and GOT IT!
We could have stayed at the “Intermediate Level – Statement of Conformity” for that 1 specific customer but I took a moment to explain to Bill the advantages and disadvantages of both actions. We discussed the financial impact to this company with new demands from the GFSI standards versus the potential future customers. Bill did a little research and chose the route of going all out for the highest & best certification for his farm based on the potential to his Farm’s future. I agreed, whole heartedly! And he has reaped the rewards of many NEW customers since the 2011 Statement and 2012 Certification.
We have been in contact each year since 2011 and I respect Bill as a business man, customer and friend. The last 2 years have taught me a new and different culture in the food industry and I am thankful for all the lessons we have shared. Life is a wonderful journey and I live for the fear of failure and success!