Worker Care Review Certification by Validus

Heart and Soul of the Food Industry  

Most of us have been employed at one time or another.  Think about your current job or maybe a past position.  The work you do or have done might seem to be small in relation to the overall company, but every action translates to a bigger picture. So how does your role affect the outcome of your company’s goals? Work performed by yourself and others may help achieve specific objectives that translate to a better experience for customers.  In any business environment, the most valuable asset is their people.  They are the heart and soul – ultimately determining the success and growth of the company.  This holds true for every industry, and most especially food and agriculture.  Without farmers, growers, or producers we wouldn’t have the food supply we have today. Not to mention the support of our auditors who partner with our farm teams to ensure nothing but the best when it comes to transparency with your food.  In our previous blogs you learned about Validus certifications that included Animal Welfare and Environmental Review. This week we focus on the next Validus Certified Program– Worker Care Review – because people matter.

Validus Worker Care Review

Coming into a positive work environment makes you feel good about the job you are doing.  Part of keeping those feelings optimistic is the conditions that you work in.  When you leave home and head to work, you want to return safely to your family and loved ones after the day is done.  As part of their verification practices, Validus created the Worker Care Review Standard, which includes a comprehensive pre-audit of worker care practices consisting of worker eligibility, worker safety and worker compensation.  It is verified on-site by Validus auditors who receive on-going, comprehensive training based on International Organization of Standards (ISO) requirements.  The audit focuses on many areas, including the following:

  • Federal and State Labor Laws
  • Employee Worker Health and Safety Requirements
  • Transportation Requirements
  • Non-discrimination Practices
  • Employment Records
  • Applicable Housing Provisions
  • On-Site Working Conditions Observations

This audit helps ensure employees are hired legally, treated and compensated fairly, and provided a safe working environment.

A CARE Producer

Validus and Where Food Comes From understand you spend a lot of time at your job and that conditions there should be safe and harmonious.  In fact, Validus felt it was so important they included it as part of their designation.  To learn more about the verification programs, check out Where Food Comes From and Validus Certification.

Storybit : Southern Cross Farm

The Story 

Gary and Nancy Jackson spent most of their lives around small cattle farms. Like many of us, right after high school they went on to pursue college degrees, careers, and start a family.  Both pursued careers in the agricultural field.  This led Gary on his path to becoming becoming the Director of Mississippi State University Extension Service in Starkville, MS while leading Nancy to become a veterinarian specializing in food animal medicine.  Driven by a desire to return to their roots, Gary and Nancy Jackson started the Southern Cross Farm in 2005. Starting with just 20 pregnant heifers and 270 acres of land they grew the operation to 706 acres with 175 female cows with their future set on eventually reaching 250 mature cattle.

Nancy has spent years developing the cow herd to reach an optimum mature body weight to flourish in the Mississippi environment, while still producing a calf capable of becoming high quality USDA Choice or Prime Beef. Each heifer calf is blood sampled to compare its genes to high performing Angus cattle in the national database, and only the best heifers that fit the long- term goals of the farm are kept for replacement heifers. Bulls are chosen for their longevity, docility, and the ability to transmit characteristics for their calves to perform well once they reach the feedlot phase of their life.

The Jacksons strive to be good stewards of the environment with their cow herd, while also increasing the local wildlife populations and diversity of species. A few of the environmental stewardship practices that are utilized on the Southern Cross Farm are rotational grazing, having a defined and short calving season, utilizing solar energy for water pumping and delivery, and using only home-grown forages to provide the feed for the cow herd.  Another management practice used on the Southern Cross Farm is the inclusion of clover plants in the fields.  It provides a high-quality protein for the cows, and when the plants die, they increase soil fertility.

Last year, Nancy’s ongoing efforts in agriculture and contributions have been recognized by the Mississippi Cattlemen’s Association.  In fact, she became the first female President of the association!

Audit Services 

The Jackson’s focus on high performing, healthy cattle that will produce a tasty, enjoyable beef-eating experience.  This is why they make the decision to partner with IMI Global, a division of Where Food Comes From. The Jacksons chose to enroll their herd in the Source & Age and Non-Hormone Treated Cattle (NHTC) verification programs. Individual identification of every calf with its birth date and dam records were already being kept, so it was not hard to add the radio frequency identification tags to each animal before it was sold. This program made the calves produced by Southern Cross Farm eligible for export to countries that require NHTC cattle, as well as brands withinthe U.S. that promote NHTC beef. The 2018 calf crop was sold utilizing a video auction broadcast over satellite television, which allowed the cattle to stay on the farm where they were raised until the day they were shipped to the feedlot. IMI Global provided the documentation of the NHTC status of the calves and this information followed the animals all the way to harvest.  The Jacksons will continue expand their relationship with IMI Global in 2019 through enrolling their entire calf crop into the Source & Age and NHTC verification programs.

The Benefits

The Jacksons raise cattle for many reasons, but they truly love seeing the animals grow and transform on the farm into a nutritious beef product. They take great pride in knowing that they are part of the United States population that raises our food.  They love to educate consumers about their ranch and the “farm to fork” process of producing a safe, nutritious beef product.  


Storybit : Gerber’s Amish Farm Chicken

It’s an ongoing debate on which came first, the chicken or the egg.  This week we head to Ohio to learn more about the Gerber Amish Poultry Farm.  Starting with the management of hatching over 125,000 chicks four days a week, their round the clock farms settle for nothing but the best when it comes to providing poultry for millions of consumers. At their operation, philosophical questions aside, the egg came first.

The Story Behind Gerber

Dwight Gerber lived in a small town in Kidron, Ohio that was a little over an hour from Akron in a large Amish and Mennonite farming community. Surprisingly, he didn’t start his career working with poultry, instead he began purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables from the Amish neighbors and selling them door to door in Akron neighborhoods. His frequent visits to Akron eventually turned into customers requesting more than just produce, they wanted poultry. As more customers inquired, Dwight saw this as an opportunity to develop a sustainable business providing food to his communities while supporting his family financially.  This revelation led him to begin raising his own chickens.  The operation was truly a family venture supported by his wife and children. From feeding the chickens to delivering product to neighborhoods, his family enjoyed being involved.  Home deliveries became so popular that Dwight was able to expand his business to local grocery stores.  The expansion was a direct result of Dwight’s focus to provide clean processed poultry, something not available in many meat markets at the time. His continued focus on quality translated to a booming business that allowed him to not only support the Amish community, but also to expand and support over 500 team members and the stores carrying Gerber’s Amish Farm Chicken® products.  Today, Mike and Sue Gerber oversee operations with a very active third generation involved in multiple aspects of the company.  What started out as a simple produce delivery job quickly lead to a successful career path producing great tasting chicken for generations of the Gerber family.  

The Audit Services

Today, Gerber is source verified through Where Food Comes From, which means that Where Food Comes From is able to identify the source of origin for Gerber products.  Gerber’s policy requires that chickens never consume feed with antibiotics or unnatural additives. Gerber also requires that all the family farmers, as well as anyone who handles live chickens, receive annual humane handling training. Care is monitored daily by members of the Gerber Farm team.   

The Benefits

Today’s consumers want products that meet high standards for quality and taste. Gerber Poultry’s goal has been to produce a chicken that meet or exceed those expectations. They begin with a selected breed of chicks that are hatched at their own hatchery. The processing plant then follows specific guidelines in accordance to all USDA food safety standards. Through the assistance of Where Food Comes From, Gerber is able to provide you reassurance about your food and the claims behind it.  The partnership of Where Food Comes From has opened other doors for Gerber including a partnership with Heinen’s Grocery Store, a retailer of Where Food Comes From Source Verified products.  They also share the same philosophy as Gerber to provide fresh, high quality foods to consumers.  You can learn more about Heinen’s or find your local store at

Learn more about the Gerber Poultry story here as well as an in-depth Q&A with their farm team!


Environmental Welfare Review with Validus

Let’s Recap

Pop Quiz! What is Validus? If you said an independent certification company that ensures specific and transparent production practices, you’re correct.  That also means you’ve probably been reading our blogs so let’s go for a bonus question.  What do the Validus Certified certifications cover? They review animal welfare, environment, and worker care practices.  Now, for the win, what type of activities occur during the review process? Interviews, testing, onsite assessments and audits is correct again.  It’s obvious you paid close attention to our animal welfare feature.

Well done!  Next up: the Environmental Review Program.

Environmental Review

Your living conditions affect your health and wellbeing. Drink dirty water you might get sick.
Neglect building repairs and the stability of your home might be compromised.  This also holds true for animals.  Understanding where your food comes from includes the conditions of the livestock facility and production areas.  The Validus Environmental Review Standards cover everything from air quality, dust control, erosion prevention, to water drainage.  Inspections are completed at a specified frequency to ensure the facility has time to correct any issues post-audit and ensure continuous improvement.  But, the requirements don’t stop there.  Manure utilization and mortality management are also part of the certification process. Both of these include extensive sampling, testing, documentation, and require that proper removal processes be in place. Certification is awarded to farms that demonstrate compliance with the environmental criteria established, which includes:

  • General Site Management and Conditions
  • Livestock Living and Production Areas
  • Outdoor Manure and Storm Water Storage
  • Manure Use and Land Application
  • Animal Mortality Management
  • Waste Water Plans, Treatments and Controls

This program is based on the Good Environmental Livestock Production Practices (GELPPs), a set of standards verified by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).  ANSI reviews and certifies that the appropriate mix of industry, academia, and public were consulted in developing the Environmental Review Program standard.

Meeting the Standards

You want to buy with confidence knowing the claims on your food are true. Where Food Comes From and companies like Validus work to ensure farms and ranches can be as transparent as possible about their practices.  The great part is the farmers and producers involved in our programs proactively want these certifications because they know the importance of telling their story in an authentic way.  Remember when we talked about the Emmy of the food world?  Well,  McCarty Family Farms, LLC was the first dairy facility in the U.S. to earn the Validus Certified Responsible Producer certification, now known as Validus CARE.  This means they met all of the Validus certification criteria, including environmental review, animal welfare review, and worker care.  We support farms like McCarty who are willing to tell their story and change the way we all collectively view how our food is produced, and most importantly, where it comes from.  To learn more about the verification programs, check out Where Food Comes From and Validus Certification.


Storybit : Shenandoah Valley Organic

This week’s blog takes us back out exploring the stories of some of the great farms and ranches that partner with Where Food Comes From.  This week we head out to Shenandoah Valley Organic, LLC (SVO) in Virginia to learn about their organic chicken farms.  SVO is a family-owned and ran company that works with local farmers who are 100% invested in the entire process, and is truly doing something unique by providing the consumer a Farm ID on every package – true traceability you can trust.  Let’s head out to Harrisonburg, Virginia and find out more about the story of Shenandoah Valley Organic!

The Story

Corwin Heatwole, Founder and CEO of Shenandoah Valley Organic, started with a simple idea, which later grew into an innovative business model with local farmers.  Starting at age 3, his father’s first poultry house started to inspire a life-long passion for Corwin.  From that passion came his first farm purchase in 2005.  Corwin knew there had to be a better way to make both farmers and customers happy.  In 2012, his first organic flock started with 300 chickens and quickly grew to 3,000 birds within a few months.

Within in a year the conversation began to change, and the Farmer Focus business model emerged.  Corwin saw that farmers felt constricted with the current model in place, not allowing them to have control of their farming operations and ownership of their chickens.  They were frustrated with the standard farmer contracts that forced them to compete against one another.  After lots of meetings and discussion s, a new contract model was created through SVO allowing farmers to have more control.  Today SVO is proud to support the hard-working family farms that partner with them.  With a renewed vision, Corwin and team set forth to continue their journey to be a clean-food company.  Nash Hill and Pine Ride Poultry were the first farms to start raising organic chickens for SVO.  With growing customer demand for their organic poultry they quickly had to seek additional partners.  In 2013, SVO immediately made the decision to open a processing facility and were able to increase the farms to a dozen throughout the next year.

With their growth, Shenandoah Valley Organics was in high demand, so much so they developed two retail brands under the names Red Wheelbarrow and Blue Ridge Trail to sell their products local and regionally.  In 2015, through Farmer Focus they created the innovative 4-letter Farm ID that traces chickens to their source of origin.  They closed the gap between customer and farmer thus providing you with traceability and transparency.  Customers were taking notice of the quality product and more farmers were coming onboard. By 2016, SVO was selling products to more than 500 stores across the Midwest and Atlantic regions.

Word of mouth travels quickly, especially in the food community.  By 2017, SVO was partnering with food bloggers like Lexi’s Clean Kitchen and gaining attention from culinary experts.  In 2018, a star was born.  You probably are familiar with a little show called The Chew.  Well, Chef Michael Symon developed multiple recipes exclusively using Shenandoah Valley Organics’ Farmer Focus chicken putting SVO on the national stage as a true innovator.  In 2018, the company re-launched all products under a single brand, Farmer Focus.  This is a testament to SVO’s dedication to providing clean products to customers while finding solutions to issues facing todays farmer.

Through their relationships, SVO has remained on the national stage.  In September of 2018, they became a sponsor for a nonprofit organization called Farm Aid. Founded by Willie Nelson, this organization serves as a support system for farm families in need. Continuing to build on their relationships, SVO now partners with food collaborators like Fresh Direct, Local Food Hub and Butcher Box, to provide access to local foods. SVO is also extending products through large retailers like Costco.  What started as an idea quickly grew into a heart-felt passion to serve customers in a more meaningful way while supporting local farmers.  This is truly an example of following your dreams. If you want change, you have to be the change.

Current Audit Services

SVO farming partners are routinely audited by third-party verifiers like the Where Food Comes From team. SVO chickens are raised and processed by the standards outlined by Certified Humane and Global Animal Partnership 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating (GAP) standards.  In addition, upholding Certified Organic/non-GMO chicken farming and agriculture.  These audits help SVO stay accountable to the process creating healthy birds and better products.

The Benefits

Where Food Comes From focuses on transparency, which is a core part of SVO’s Farmer Focus Organic chicken program.  Our unbiased assessment of claims and source verification serve as a valuable resource for consumers that care about the quality and process needed to get food to their plates.  SVO believes the best result is a good quality of life for all involved in the process.  Sustainable farming combines science, innovation, and good old tradition benefiting the environment.  It’s all about cutting down the needless waste. Be sure to check out SVO to learn more about their amazing journey and their partnership with Where Food Comes From.

Animal Welfare Review Program with Validus

Most people know that before you ever purchase your food, it goes through multiple steps and processes to reach your plate.  Here at Where Food Comes From, it is our responsibility to share with you on the stories behind your food and those processes it goes through to reach your plate. The farmers that grow our food truly are the point of change in the food industry.  As we introduce you to farmers we partner with through our programs and certifications, you’re getting an inside look into the variety of choices they make daily to ensure they are producing food in a responsible way.  This means understanding practices like the treatment of animals, which leads us to our Validus division and the work they do in assessing animal care.

Who is Validus?

Late last year in our New Year’s blog article we briefly touched on our Validus Certified programs.  Today we get a chance to dive deeper into Validus’ Animal Welfare Review and all that it takes to evaluate animal care and wellbeing within this program.

Let us introduce you to the  Validus Certifiedprograms.  Validus ensures food is produced according to specific and transparent production practices.  The best part is, like many of our programs, all of their practices go through extensive auditing in order to be certified. As a result, you know that not only have participating producers agreed to follow certain practices, but they have proven to do so as well.

Certification from Validus covers criteria specific to animal welfare, environmental integrity and  worker care. For those who have been evaluated and approved in all three Validus programs, they receive the prestigious Validus CARE certification – which is the equivalent of receiving an Emmy in the food verification world. Now that we’ve explained a little bit about Validus, let’s take a deeper look into the Animal Welfare Review program.

Validus Animal Welfare Review Certification

Validus has Animal Welfare Review certifications for multiple species, but the most widely used and prevalent in the industry today is the Animal Welfare Review program for Dairy (also known as AWRD).  Accredited to both the USDA Process Verified Program requirements and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Technical Specification (TS) 34700 for Animal Welfare Management/General Requirements and Guidance for Organizations in the Food Supply Chain, the Validus AWRD standard comes with some serious clout.

Once a company or farm applies for AWRD certification the review process begins.  This consists of several steps, which includes interviews, onsite audits, and document and process assessments. Certification is awarded to farms who demonstrate compliance with specified criteria, including:

  • Proper animal handling and management
  • Herd health procedures and care
  • Food and water quality standards
  • Housing that promotes animal comfort and cleanliness
  • On-farm security procedures
  • Proper care of special needs animals

The Experts

 To ensure these standards are upheld, Validus assembles an expert committee for each sector; animal welfare, environmental health and worker care.   Each sector consists of five individuals who are considered experts in their given field of study.  They listen to suggestions from participating farms, consider new and emerging industry research and technologies, and review the current standards annually in order to continuously improve the evaluation criteria.  Did you hear that?  They listen and make changes!  This ensures that the standard is always current and is always striving to improve and shift with both industry and consumer expectations.

Over the next few weeks we will be sharing information about the other programs supported by Validus. In the meantime, if you want to gain more insights about these programs visit the Validus Certified website.

Storybit : Rural Route 1 Farms

“Beef, it’s what for dinner” … and many times lunch and breakfast as well!  For many Americans it doesn’t get much better than the thought of sinking your teeth into a juicy steak cooked just the way we like it. I’m also sure most of us know the difference between a great steak and a good steak.  As consumers are more removed from their food than ever before, it can be difficult to understand what goes into the difference between “good” and “great” when it comes to beef.  This week we get a chance to tell the story of Allan Ortmeier with Rural Route 1 Farms.  Let’s head out to Scribner Nebraska to learn more.

Behind the Scenes

Starting as a simple dream in 1958, the idea of owning a family farm went from a dream and transformed into a thriving farmstead several decades later.  Continuing that simple dream and adding to their father’s legacy is Allan Ortmeier and his brothers, Dave and John.  In 2005, the brothers came to the realization that they had an opportunity to improve the quality of beef for their family, neighbors and customers. Working from sun up to sun down Rural Route 1 Farms went to work to make their beef the best, while ensuring what they advertised was exactly what you were getting.

With this new vision the farm began to prosper like never before.  In late 2015, Allan and his brothers reached out to Creekstone Farms Premium Beef to start processing and selling their beef, which was NHTC, Verified Natural Beef, GAP and Non-GMO Project verified.  Since then, Creekstone Farms has been receiving all cattle from Rural Route 1 Farms.

To Allan and his brothers, the quality of their meat is of the utmost importance.  Allan is very proud of what Rural Route 1 Farms has been able to accomplish with their hard work and clear vision. In the last two years, the farm has processed 35 head a week.  They have graded nearly 100% Choice, and of those 53% were Prime, and only 2 head were graded Select. Allan and his family truly want everyone to experience first-rate nutritious beef and their results speak for themselves.

Audit Services

For more than five years, Rural Route 1 Farms has produced Non-GMO Project verified beef, along with being NHTC, Verified Natural Beef and Global Animal Partnership (GAP) verified by Where Food Comes From. Because of these verifications, the farm has recently been able to take advantage of shipping product to China, Saudi Arabia and the EU.

The Benefits

“If you won’t eat it why would you feed it to your cattle?” was a question that resonated with Allan and his family and ultimately led to them to make a change on what they were feeding their cattle, switching from grass to Non-GMO corn. “Yes, cows can eat grass, but why do that when corn taste better?” says Allan. Everything the cows eat is Non-GMO. With the assistance of IMI Global and Where Food Comes From, Rural Route 1 Farms was able to make the transition from commercial to a highly restricted and specialized feed lot.  The Non-GMO corn feed may not be the next item on the menu for you, but the cows sure do love it!

Head over to the Rural Route 1 website to watch this video and learn more about the farm!  Interested in learning where to purchase their beef? The website will answer that question for you as well.


GAP 5-Step Animal Welfare – A Look Inside the Program

Over the last several weeks we have had the unique opportunity to take our readers along with us as we met with some of the farmers and ranchers that we provide our third-party verification services for.  Sharing their stories with you has been a wonderful experience, as connecting you with those that have a passion for animal welfare is a passion of ours! We know you love food and want it to taste great, but you also have a desire for more education around that food, where it comes from and how it is produced.   You’re connecting with your food on new levels, which means having a better understanding about where your food comes from.

For example, did you know those chocolate chips in your cookie are produced with ingredients from a fruit grown on a tree?  Or did you know that the handling of an animal could affect the quality, taste, or look of the meat that inevitably makes it onto your plate? Expectations on how our food is produced are changing the food industry; from environmental standards to animal welfare.  Better food quality means verifying producers are engaged in specific processes, which is the purpose of standards, audits and certification.  One example of this is in the evaluation of animal care and wellbeing, so this week we’re diving into the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) 5-Step Animal Welfare standard.  Let’s head out to the farm! 

What is the 5-Step Animal Welfare Program?
Before meat or other products can display the certified label, a third-party audit must be conducted at each farm/ranch in a given supply chain that wants to label their product as GAP certified.

First, let’s understand what that means to you.  Below is some helpful information on the three components that GAP uses to define farm animal welfare.

  • Health & Productivity – raising animals so that they’re healthy and productive with good quality feed and water, shelter, and free from disease, illness and injury (but treating any animals that get sick).
  • Natural Living – raising animals in environments that allow them to express their natural behaviors effectively – both indoors and outdoors
  • Emotional Well Being – raising animals in environments that provide them the ability to be inquisitive, happy and playful and minimize boredom, frustration, fear, stress and pain, as much as possible.

Understanding what farm animal welfare encompasses is important.  Let’s also take a look at the “5” steps below as defined by GAP.

The Standards
GAP was created in 2008, with an underlying commitment to collaboration with stakeholders involved in animal agriculture and production.  Over the years, GAP  has focused on continual improvements to animal care, management and animal welfare with their farm and ranch partners, while at the same time connecting with other segments of the food industry (e.g. retail, manufacturing, etc.) to grow awareness about animal welfare and their program.

GAP truly has a unique process demonstrating their commitment to transparency in labeling. They blend scientific research and practical knowledge to develop a thorough and evidence-based process.  GAP covers beef, broiler chickens, bison, pigs, turkeys, goats, sheep, and laying hens and all of their standards are shared with the public to solicitate feedback as they are developed and/or changed  over time. This allows you to share ideas and perspectives with GAP directly, creating a collaborative process for continuous improvement in the standard in a way that allows all stakeholders – from producers to consumers – to have a say in what matters most to them.

As you know, the core service of Where Food Comes From is third-party verification.  Our IMI Global division is accredited by  GAP to complete audits on every farm that is seeking a GAP certification – with audits taking place on every operation every 15 months.  The GAP program covers the entire life of the animal, from the birth of a pig or hatching of an egg to finished product processing. You name it, they cover it.  

Why GAP?
In a recent GAP survey, 63% of consumers look for labels that call-out how the animal was raised when purchasing the products.  When it comes to making choices for yourself and your family, transparency is extremely important.  So why GAP?  Their 5 – Step program allows them to be transparent so you know first-hand how an animal was raised.  As customer demand increases, GAP is available to help you tell your story to consumers, raising the understanding about animal welfare in addition to increasing the use of the label.  The last 10 years has been an exciting time for GAP, and they don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.

Learn more about GAP at
View the IMI Global GAP program flier here and you can also contact us to enroll today!