Daniel and Carol Buck might be farming in the middle of wheat country, but they are 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 at 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 and 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 GAP 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," Daniel Buck said. "With just Carol and I handling (their lettuce and herbs), it minimizes the chances of food safety problems."
Participating in K-State and KDA 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.
"We have picked Cal's brain numerous times. He's a lifesaver," Carol Buck said.
Jamerson's position with K-State 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.
K-State is hosting another round of produce food safety trainings this summer and fall, including a grower training Sept. 6 in Bird City, and a GAP food safety planning workshop Oct. 4 in Dodge City.