Rule of Green Thumb for Community Gardens

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community gardens

With the increase in school and community gardens providing fresh, local food, teaching food safety practices is imperative. Many gardeners need to take the proper precautions to help keep consumers from getting sick.

North Carolina researchers have developed guidelines that address how to limit foodborne illness in community gardens and, after conducting a study testing the guidelines, proved that they make a difference.

N.C. State University associate professor and Cooperative Extension food safety specialist Ben Chapman led the research. He developed a document to instruct gardeners on how to limit risks associated with illness and explains how the risk mitigation efforts work. Instructions included things such as washing hands before starting work in the garden as well as after you’re finished. Gardeners should have easy access to hand-washing facilities at the garden site.

To test their document, the research team conducted observation-based assessments in 20 different gardens and followed up two months later. Improvement in food safety practice scores was found in 16 of the 20 gardens, in areas including hand washing, the safety of the site’s water supply, and assessing pre-existing hazards at the site (such as pre-existing soil contamination).

Chapman says that there’s definitely room for more improvement and will continue to explore more opportunities to spread the word about safety measures, such as YouTube videos and webinars. The guidance handbook is free online at growingsafergardens.com.

– Rachel Bertone

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