College of Agriculture & Natural Resources

Terp Farm and Food Safety

Plant Science student develops food safety certification program for UMD’s sustainable vegetable farm.
Plant Science senior, Karyn Owens, does her part to ensure that Terp Farm produce is sanitary and safe for UMD students to eat.
Image Credit: 
Edwin Remsberg

For senior plant science major Karyn Owens, eating fresh, local food is not just a health trend, it’s a passion and a potential career path.

Owens’ interest first began when a teaching assistant in one of her plant science courses told students about UMD’s new Terp Farm, a two-acre sustainable vegetable farm located 15 miles from campus at the Upper Marlboro Research and Education Center  providing UMD Dining Services with fresh produce to be served in dining halls and the Green Tidings food truck. Terp Farm was looking for full-time students to work at the farm over the summer, and Owens applied right away.

“I love the mission and vision of the project, combining both education for students and production for the campus dining halls,” Owens said.

UMD’s Department of Dining Services provides 27,000 meals per day to students, faculty, and staff. Terp Farm is aiding the department in meeting its goal to safely and affordably deliver more locally-produced food to campus.

“Last fall, I took a course on fruit and vegetable production that opened my eyes to the realm of food safety,” Owens said. “It's amazing how little consumers know about how much work goes into stocking the shelves in a grocery store. There are incredible growing standards and protocols that farmers must follow around worker hygiene, quality of water, and presence of wildlife.”

With the help of Allison Lilly, Sustainability and Wellness Coordinator for Dining Services, and Guy Kilpatric, Terp Farm’s lead agricultural technician, Owens took up the charge to compile and finalize a Terp Farm food safety plan for Good Agriculture Practices (GAP) certification. Following the plan’s June audit completion with the Maryland Department of Agriculture, Terp Farm has officially received GAP certification.

“I believe the fewer the miles between farm and fork, the better it tastes and the safer it is,” Owens explained. “Fresh fruits and vegetables are considered "at-risk" for contamination because they are not typically cooked...[so] consumers should inspect produce thoroughly before and after purchase, handle and wash properly, and report any illnesses likely caused by the product as soon as possible."

To reduce risk and ensure the safe consumption of fruits and vegetables, farmers are encouraged to take the necessary “common sense” precautions: washing hands before touching food, irrigating crops with quality water sources, and keeping wildlife out of crops to prevent contamination.

“My advice to farmers is that developing a food safety plan is critical for any farm, with or without the GAP certification. Keep records and always go the extra mile to produce safe food for your customers and livestock,” Owens advised.

“My time here at Terp Farm has only just begun and I hope to be involved with the project in some capacity for long beyond graduation,” said Owens, who aspires to be a farmer herself. “My work here has prepared me in so many ways for the challenges and joys of being a farmer.

“It's such an amazing feeling knowing that the crops we care for so much are feeding students on campus just 15 miles away,” Owen continued. “I have so much pride for this university and for the food I've been able to grow through Terp Farm.”

While several classes and student groups are already involved with the the project , Terp Farm is always looking for volunteers willing to help with planting and harvesting throughout the semester. Those interested are asked to contact alilly@umd.edu and visit Terp Farm’s Facebook and Instagram pages.

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