Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan touched on the importance of food safety in the growing regional and local food movement during the U.S. Department of Agriculture Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food event at the White House on Monday.

farm-redbarn-406.jpg“No one gets a pass on food safety, in my mind, I don’t care if you’re the biggest farm in the world, or the smallest” said Merrigan, in response to a question from Food Safety News. “We all have to achieve very high levels of food safety. Secretary Tom Vilsack said one of his first meetings, if not his first meeting, with the president was talking about the importance of food safety. So this White House and this administration takes food safety very seriously.”

“But there are different ways of getting there,” said Merrigan. “One of the things that we funded through the Risk Management Agency was working with — it’s one of many things that we’ve done — and what they did was they developed a food safety planning tool.” 

The tool, part of’s On-Farm Food Safety Project, is the first of its kind that has a broad range of input and expertise — from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to trade groups to ag extension specialists. It is aimed at helping small- and mid-sized farmers to achieve Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) harmonized standards and certification to help ensure fruits and vegetables are produced, handled and stored in the safest manner possible.

“It’s free to farmers,” said Merrigan. “So you can go on to the website… and it’ll ask you questions, kind of like TurboTax, if you’ve every used TurboTax in tax filing season. It asks you particular questions and at the end you hit print and you get your food safety plan.

“We are doing a lot, I think, to help small farmers. If you’re vending into a school or farm-to-institution situation, or even if you’re direct to farmer’s market, of course you want to have high levels of food safety,” added Merrigan. “We’re trying to develop tools to help people out.”

The USDA Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, which coordinates existing resources within the department, unveiled a digital map last week, known as The Compass, that visually maps out USDA local and regional food projects.

The White House event was the epicenter of a virtual conversation, otherwise known as a “tweetup,” because it was mostly hosted on Twitter. The conversation can be viewed by searching for the hashtag #KYF2 at