In 2011 the federal Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law in an effort to enhance the safety of food for U.S. consumers. The regulation applies to farms with income of $500,000 or more and it quickly became clear that most Vermont produce farms would be exempt from FSMA regulations due to their relatively small size; but they still need a way to maintain credibility with their buyers as market expectations around food safety become more stringent.
Thus, in 2014, to meet this anticipated need, the VVBGA and UVM Extension envisioned the CAPS Program based on UVM Extension’s Practical Produce Safety program. A diverse advisory board of industry stakeholders was asked to design CAPS and its requirements. The program aims to provide market credibility, and to reduce the already low risk posed by locally grown produce. By crafting standards based on accepted best practices for on-farm risk reduction in the USDA GAP program, CAPS pragmatically demonstrated Vermont growers’ commitment to quality and accountability.
In 2015, CAPS was piloted with 25 lead Vermont produce farms, and has steadily grown to 125 farms in 2019.
In 2016, CAPS migrated to its current web platform at capsvt.org, and officially launched the certificate program with 60 leading growers from Vermont and New Hampshire, including 95% of the 2015 pilot farms. In addition, in 2016 CAPS-Plus was piloted with Hannaford Supermarkets and five wholesale CAPS growers. CAPS-Plus added the rigor of a third-party on-farm audit, a basic requirement for regional wholesale market access.
Also during this second year, CAPS developed its Share Page with the intention of inviting program participants to view folders of model CAPS farms. Since its development, the popular Share Page has facilitated natural adoption and normalization of recommended practices in the CAPS community, with no additional resources, education or outreach.
In 2019, Wegmans and Price Chopper joined Hannaford Supermarkets in accepting CAPS-Plus as a valid vendor credential.
Throughout CAPS development, the program has been supported by local and regional produce buyers such as Black River Produce, Hanover and Middlebury Coops, and City Market. UVM Extension and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture (through a Specialty Crop grant) have also contributed funds. The VVBGA invests $5,000 per year. Funding supports a program coordinator and the development and maintenance of the CAPS online platform. Grower fees are a small but important part of the funding mix.