Produce Safety Technicians: What Do They Do?

Did you know that Michigan is the only State that has Produce Safety Technicians? There are six Produce Safety Techs in the State that assist fresh produce growers in implementing and tailoring their practices to meet the highest produce safety standards. The Technicians are housed in the Conservation Districts, and are located in areas that were identified as fresh produce ‘hot spots’ in Michigan (those counties being high fresh produce output areas). 

Technicians offer assistance that is FREE, this is something provided at no cost to the farm and is completely voluntary. Farms can choose different ways to assess produce safety on the farm, and a Technician helps them to identify an action plan and ways to implement certain elements to fit their farms needs. Everything that is observed or talked about on the farm is confidential and the Technician will provide as many resources as possible to help the farm implement these practices, and minimize risks on their farm.They have a unique role in delivering direct technical education and assistance to produce farms in their regions through multiple tools: Produce Safety Risk Assessments (PSRA), On-Farm Readiness Reviews (OFRR), Produce Safety Alliance grower trainings (PSA), produce safety technical assistance, site visits, resource development and delivery, and more.  A farm can undergo a Produce Safety Risk Assessment (PSRA) with a Technician to understand areas that they are doing well, and some areas that may need some work. Once a farm completes the action items outlined after the risk assessment, and develops a food safety plan, they are able to receive a certificate to display, and highlight that they are implementing the best practices on their farm. 

Balancing produce safety requirements due to audits or other buyer requests; and the Food Safety Modernization Act, Produce Safety Rule; and overall farms just trying to do the right thing can seem like a large task, but Technicians are a non-regulatory resource that can provide you with resources and assistance that is tailored to you, and your farm. 

Map of Technician Coverage Area:

Michigan On-Farm Produce Safety Infographic:

Get to Know your Produce Safety Technicians!

Marquette County Conservation District

Name: Landen Tetil
District: Marquette County Conservation District
Title: Produce Safety Technician
Location/Coverage Area: The Upper Peninsula! Core counties include Alger, Delta, Marquette, Iron, Baraga, Dickinson, and Menominee. All other UP Counties by request.

What’s your favorite vegetable/fruit and why? It’s a tough choice, but I’d have to say Hubbard squash, especially Blue Hubbards. There’s something so satisfying about growing and eating such a monster of a squash. Plus, the flesh is so versatile!

When I was five I was pretty sure I would be a… when I grew up: I was either going to grow up to be a Girl Scout or the president. Neither have panned out.

Most inspiring part of your job? Watching and hearing stories of local farmer’s successes.

What did you do to keep yourself busy during the stay at home order? Other than being fortunate enough to work from home, I fill my time with online graduate classes, gardening, wedding planning, and taking my golden retriever out on adventures.

Learn more about the Marquette Conservation District here.

Manistee Conservation District

Name: Michelle Jacokes
District: Manistee Conservation District
Title: Produce Safety Technician 
Location/Coverage Area: Northwest Lower Michigan (Manistee, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Leelanau and Antrim)

What’s your favorite vegetable/fruit and why? I have always been a big broccoli fan. The way it grows, the big leaves collecting water! Nothing beats a fresh bite of broccoli. Also organic sweet corn, right off the stalk, uncooked and fabulous!

When I was five I was pretty sure I would be a… when I grew up: When I was 5, I wanted a battery dump truck instead of the barbie car…. not sure if that was an indicator of anything but I mostly used it to drive around large rocks. Geologist? Earth mover? I don’t know really, I just liked being outside- and driving my dump truck.

Most inspiring part of your job? Seeing and being a part of a local food culture that is deeply rooted in regenerative agricultural practices, and sustaining the future of farming by protecting farmland and the natural lands that surround it. It makes me really proud and thankful to live in a community that cares so deeply about those things. Also- getting to know, and visit many different farms. All unique, but equally dedicated, driven and hardworking.

What did you do to keep yourself busy during the stay at home order? I love to cook. I have never been one to bake, as I am not a huge sweets person (salty all the way), but I challenged myself to baking a new muffin every week- all of them being gluten free. Many flavors came out of it and I used substitutes for sugar to tone down the sweetness; triple berry coconut, peanut butter, lemon coconut, pumpkin dark chocolate chip, double chocolate, raspberry…OH and I talked my boyfriend into getting a cat, we named him Wendell Berry. Also yoga, lots of hiking, starting the garden and being outside- fresh air does the mind wonders.

Learn more about the Manistee Conservation District here.

Newaygo Conservation District

 Name: Jordan Devries
District: Newaygo Conservation District
Title: Produce Safety Technician
Location/Coverage Area: West-Central Michigan; from Holland to Ludington and inland from Byron Center to Reed City. 

What’s your favorite vegetable/fruit and why? Definitely sugar snap peas. You’re not supposed to play with your food, right? But how can you not find new and interesting ways to break open  a sugar snap pod? It’s like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of the vegetable world. And, if you can’t find any at your local purveyor of vegetables, there’s always a chance they’ll have snow peas, which aren’t as fun to crack open but still taste pretty much the same. 

When I was five I was pretty sure I would be a… when I grew up: A dinosaur, or was it a Paleontologist?

Most inspiring part of your job? I think it’s when I stumble into a solution for a problem that is solved by farmer ingenuity and I learn something I can share with other growers. In my mind, there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to trying out practices and tools that make our food safer, but it is important that growers learn from things that don’t quite work and keep moving forward and trying out changes. It’s great to be able to work with farm operators with makeshift parts and buildings but a positive attitude and seriousness about the well-being of their customers.

What did you do to keep yourself busy during the stay at home order? I have a daughter who turned three during the Stay Home Stay Safe order; my wife and I were busy making the continuation of her early preschool our top priority. This included some at-home science lessons that I borrowed from from my produce safety training, including handwashing play with Glo-germ and a black light to ‘make the bugs go away’, different composting systems -we experimented with a Bokashi anaerobic compost system this spring and vermicompost in addition to our backyard compost pile that we took temperature profiles from. Her favorite was the Bokashi -because it ‘burps’. My big activity this spring was grafting 400 apple bench grafts and setting them up in a new planting. Sadly, my daughter didn’t help me dig the holes!

Learn more about the Newaygo Conservation District here.

Genesee Conservation District

Name: Micah Hutchison
District: Genesee Conservation District
Title: Produce Safety Technician 
Location/Coverage Area- Mid/SE Michigan (Livingston, Lapeer, Saginaw, Genesee, Oakland, Tuscola, Shiawassee)

What’s your favorite vegetable/fruit and why? Beets- they are the first vegetable I really fell in love with. The earthy rich taste makes me feel more connected to the world.

When I was five I was pretty sure I would be a… when I grew up:  A pig farmer’s wife.

Most inspiring part of your job? Meeting new people and creating shared experiences.

What did you do to keep yourself busy during the stay at home order? I do a lot of things with my 9 year old daughter. We garden, catch fireflies, talk, read, take walks, make plant based dyes, and recently I have started to teach her how to knit and sew.

Learn more about the Genesee Conservation District here.

Blue Water Conservation District

Name: Emily Hale
District: Blue Water Conservation District
Title: Produce Safety Technician
Location/Coverage Area: Huron, Sanilac, St. Clair, Macomb, and Wayne Counties!

What’s your favorite vegetable/fruit and why? Beets, because pickled beets and Greek Salads!

When I was five I was pretty sure I would be a… when I grew up:A WNBA Superstar!!!!!

Most inspiring part of your job? Seeing the diversity in produce production in my region as well as the enthusiasm growers have to grow high quality, safe produce!

What did you do to keep yourself busy during the stay at home order? I worked on my family farm where we spent our time shearing sheep, lambing, and planting produce and flowers!

Learn more about the Blue Water Conservation District here.

Berrien Conservation District

NAME: Terri Jacomine
DISTRICT: Berrien Conservation District
TITLE: Produce Safety Technician

What’s your favorite vegetable/fruit and why? I believe I have never met a fruit I don’t like! Having both sets of grandparents as fruit farmers has really spoiled me. I love warm peaches picked right off the tree. They smell so good, have beautiful color, are juicy and flavorful. Then of course there are fresh blueberries, strawberries, cherries…. you name it, I love them all! Nothing compares to the robust flavor of Michigan fruit.

When I was five I was pretty sure I would be a … when I grew up: When I was five, I knew I would be a cowgirl! We had horses, ponies, a wagon and a pink sleigh. I enjoyed riding in the wagon in the summer and the sleigh in the winter. Looking back, it was such a magical memory, the snow falling, climbing into the horse drawn sleigh with my family to ride down the street. I loved being in the barn, the smell of the hay and being able to brush them. I would have full on conversations with them!

Most inspiring part of your job? Coming from retail food safety to produce safety, I am excited to learn everything I can in the industry. I have come full circle to where my roots are and look forward to sharing some of my experiences with my family.

What did you do to keep yourself busy during the stay at home order? During the stay at home order, I attended various webinars on food safety, how supply chains are dealing with the impacts of COVID-19, and ways to maximize safety procedures in any situation. In between working, I would take my daughter for drives in the country so we could decompress and get outside. I enjoy painting on canvas, painting large rocks, and painting rooms in the house!

Learn more about the Berrien Conservation District here.