Initiative helps produce safer produce

Matthew Busch/The Herald
Mike Rees of Jasper, right, worked in his garden with the help of his granddaughter Kendra Schipp of Ferdinand, 14, left, his grandson Jared Schipp of Ferdinand, 11, and his wife, Judy, covering their crops with hay and newspapers June 25 to keep the weeds out. Mike sells his produce at local farmers markets and to local grocery stores. A new initiative created by the Indiana State Department of Health requires Mike and other growers to be registered with the state to sell to retail stores.

Herald Staff Writer

Mike Rees spends nearly 25 hours a week working in his 1-acre garden in Jasper. The garden produces an abundance of fruits and vegetables that Rees, 62, usually sells directly from his garden, at farmers markets and to local grocery stores.

Because of a new initiative created earlier this year by the Indiana State Department of Heath, Rees is required to be registered with the state to sell to retail stores. Three Dubois County growers — Rees, Hasenour Organic Produce in Huntingburg and Birdseye General Store — are among the 64 growers across the state who have registered so far.

The Produce Safety Initiative was created in the wake of last year’s salmonella outbreak in cantaloupes. Scott Gilliam, director of the food protection program at the state health department, said after the outbreak the department realized it didn’t know where wholesale farmers in Indiana were located. There was no “one good list” that included all the wholesale farmers in the state, making it difficult for outbreaks to be traced to their source, Gilliam said.

No fee is required to register with the health department and no inspections are done of a farm prior to its name being placed on the list. Gilliam said growers are taking the process seriously because they don’t want to be associated with an outbreak.

Angie Hasenour works at Hasenour Organic Produce and helps owner Irma Hasenour, her mother-in-law, with the paperwork. Hasenour’s sells organic tomatoes and cucumbers as well as hydroponic lettuce directly from its farm and also sells its produce to local grocery stores. Angie Hasenour said the registration process was simple.

“It was just a matter of filling out your information, what you grow and where you grow it,” she said.

Matthew Busch/The Herald
Mike Rees of Jasper waved to his neighbor passing by as Rees picked green peppers from his garden June 25.

She thinks the registration process is a good way to protect consumers and growers alike and will help the state trace an outbreak if one ever occurs again.

The Produce Safety Initiative also has created positions for two food safety farm consultants who are available to offer assistance and training to farmers. Gilliam said the farm consultants will collect fruit and vegetable samples later in the year and test them for possible contaminants. If samples come back positive, the farm where the sample originated might be inspected, Gilliam said.

Rees, who is the general merchandise manager for area Holiday Foods stores, has been growing fruits and vegetables to sell for three years. He said the main item he sells to stores is cantaloupe because few farmers in the area grow it. He takes steps to ensure the cantaloupes stay safe from contaminants by growing them on straw instead of allowing them to lie in the dirt.

He also grows pumpkins, watermelons, corn, beans, eggplant, zucchini, squash, green peppers, radishes, peas, lettuce and cauliflower. Two of his grandchildren help with the garden, selling the produce at farmers markets, and Rees splits the money he makes with them.

Rees said the new registration process is a good way for the state to keep track of wholesale growers, adding that outbreak prevention is really in the hands of each individual grower.

“You have to be safe and conscientious yourself,” Rees said. “You have to have clean practices. I try and keep my (fruits and vegetables) off the ground. I think it’s an individual responsibility.”

Contact April Dittmer at

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