Hanging Hoses

Having water when and where you need it can make a big difference in vegetable wash station efficiency. Planning for multiple “drops” or spigots around the wash area can make it more convenient to access water where it is needed. It can be helpful to consider the routing of the supply lines to avoid condensation on people and produce.  Cold water flowing through the lines on a warm humid day can result in condensation of water that can drop from the lines.  Running the lines away from walkways and produce areas can avoid this being a problem.  Running the lines down low in wash areas can also help keep any condensation exposure at a minimum.

Also, investing in a hose hanger, hose reel or a trolley can help keep the hose off the ground, resulting in a cleaner and more safe work environment.

Hose Hangers

Hose hangers are the simplest hose management tool to install.  These are simply wall mounted or free standing rounded shelves or manually wound reels that accommodate a coiled hose when not in use.  They are generally available from the hardware store, though some growers suggest “buying up” to get a heavy duty version that will last in an environment where they are used daily.  Molded plastic hangers are common for household use, but are prone to cracking and breaking.  Metal hangers are available and are likely better suited to regular use in a vegetable wash/pack area.

Yard Butler Hanger, $12 from Zoro

Liberty Wall Mount Hanger, $11 from Zoro

Hose Trolleys

DIY Hose Trolley in a greenhouse.
Close up showing how the hose is connected to the trolley using standard hardware.

Hose trolleys have been in use in greenhouses and propagation houses for some time.  These are general made up of a multi-strand metal wire with pulleys (similar to a dog run).  Multiple pulleys have hangers below them to hold sections of hose.  The hose expands out when needed and contracts back in when stored in an accordion fashion.  Trolleys can be made using materials from the local hardware store (metal wire, pulleys, PVC pipe or hose split lengthwise to support the hose, and some zip ties.) Several vendors offer hose trolley kits as well (e.g. FarmTek, Johnny’s)

Hose Reels

Equip Hose Reel

Hose reels provide a spring loaded

Hannay Hose Reel

retraction reel that rolls the hose up neatly after use.  These can be ceiling or wall mounted depending on your space and need.  The reels come in different hose lengths and different hose diameters.  Two popular options are available from Equip and Hannay.

Bins, Buckets, Baskets & Totes

Many diversified farms have a variety of containers to best handle individual crops.

So you’re starting to farm, or scaling up your production. You hear talk about food safety, and cleanability.  You are checking out what other farms are doing and are looking for harvest crates and storage bins.

You probably noticed lots of people use many different things. Some use 5-gallon pails, milk crates, muck buckets, some use totes found at the box stores, yet others use what seem to be specific, grey, flip top totes. Does it matter what you use? Not really, but you should have some sort of method to the madness on your farm to help minimize contamination, reduce mix-ups and wasted time on your farm. Consistency is key to organization and efficiency.

I commonly hear “Ok, I like this style of totes/bins/crates, where do I find them?” Well hopefully, this blog post will have a few suggestions to point you in the right direction with user reviews, distributor information, comparison chart, and pictures of features.  Continue reading Bins, Buckets, Baskets & Totes

Mighty Clean and Comfortable – A New Wash and Pack Shed at Mighty Food Farm

 Download this Postharvest Case Study as a PDF Here!

Lisa MacDougall has led Mighty Food Farm through start-up, relocation from rented land to owned land, and now through the construction of a brand-new 60 ft x 90 ft wash and pack shed. She’s done this all while producing a diverse mix of organic vegetables, tree fruit and berries on fourteen acres, now, in Shaftsbury.

The packshed has become the central “hub” of the farm boasting new, slab on grade construction with a large overhead door on the east side for receiving from field and packing out for market, person-door for crew access on the northeast corner, and a second person-door for retail and CSA access on the northwest corner.

One of Lisa’s primary goals in her new location was “a proper P-shed”; a pack shed where she and her crew could comfortably and safely wash, store, and pack produce for delivery to her customers year-round.  Mighty Food Farm serves retail farm stand, farmers market, CSA, and wholesale customers.

Continue reading Mighty Clean and Comfortable – A New Wash and Pack Shed at Mighty Food Farm

Lessons in Ergonomics from My Grandmother

I recently had the opportunity to record a public service announcement (PSA) for WDEV.  This is part of a series of PSA’s the UVM Extension colleagues contribute to. I decided to focus on ergonomics and shared some lessons from my grandmother and other sources. Click below to listen.

The text and additional resources are available below.

Continue reading Lessons in Ergonomics from My Grandmother

A Vegetable Farming “Must Have”: Harvest Tote

Every vegetable farm must have a harvest tote, and I don’t mean a basket for picking into. What I’m referring to is a box with the daily essentials in it so you’re never without, and don’t have to go back to the barn.

This “Just-In-Time” kit is taken right out of the Lean principles and works outstanding on the farm just as it does in the automotive or manufacturing industry. Lisa MacDougall of Mighty Food Farm in Shaftsbury, VT swears by this little blue box she calls the “Harvest Tote” which holds all the essentials needed for daily harvesting out of the field.

What’s should you have in the box?

  • Harvest Knives
  • Snippers
  • Scissors
  • Sharpening Stone
  • Rubber Bands
  • Harvest Log
  • Pen, pencil or marker

This box always gets placed in the truck, every morning. These essential tools are kept all together and in one place at all times minimizing time to look for tools, or trips back to the packshed because the rubber bands were forgotten. This reduces downtime and saves wasted steps leading to increased efficiencies of operation.

This kit has food safety benefits too! With all the tools stored together, they are cleaned and sanitized all at the same time and logged, usually on a weekly basis. This Friday afternoon cleaning is also an opportunity for a weekly sharpening so all tools are in good shape for the week ahead. Keeping the tools in a tote keeps the knives from getting used for other activities outside of harvest which could contaminate them and make them dirty. Keeping the knives in a tote, also ensures that they are not stored in a hard to wash sheath, tossed on the dash of the truck, cup holder of the tractor etc.

Implementing this standard has many benefits and could be a great tech-tip to consider on your farm.

Postharvest Resource Survey

We are seeking input regarding a research and education project with the goal of consolidating postharvest information in a single set of resources.

Our proposed project aims to consolidate existing knowledge, best practices, and new developments in postharvest equipment, infrastructure, and buildings into a web-based handbook, workshop curriculum / educational materials and recorded videos.

Click here or on the picture to take the survey! 

This survey is voluntary and anonymous. Summarized and anonymized results will be included in a grant project proposal and also on our website (go.uvm.edu/ageng). Please direct any questions to Chris Callahan, chris.callahan@uvm.edu, 802-447-7582 x256.

The survey should take an average of 3 minutes to complete.

Thanks for your help.

Construction Details for a Counter-top Forced Air Cooler

To learn more about forced air cooling visit go.uvm.edu/forcedaircooling

To download the PDF version of this plan click here!


Farms that need to cool smaller volumes of produce can also benefit from forced air cooling. Whether cooling stacked pallets, pallet bins or individual cartons, the same principals apply. A smaller pallet cooler was noted on the previous page, but this concept can be scaled down even further to fit your needs. Here is a prototype, that could fit on a countertop with-in a walk-in cooler.

Framing:

Constructed of 2×4’s on top of a horizontal base made from 1/2” plywood cut 24” deep and 44” wide. Angled reinforcements were needed to stiffen the assembly.

Plenum Panel:

Continue reading Construction Details for a Counter-top Forced Air Cooler

Construction Details for a Pallet Forced Air Cooler

The blower is just placed up to the cut-out hole, on a shelf. This unit has a very simple shelf and feet to add some stability.

To learn more about forced air cooling visit go.uvm.edu/forcedaircooling

To download the PDF version of this guide click here!


Framing:

2”x12” lumber to make a 43” wide x 74” tall x 11-1/4” deep plenum for suction air distribution.

Plenum Panel:

3/8” CDX Plywood with an 11-1/4” circle cut out for the blower suction inlet. Position this whole centered for even air pressure.

Plastic Wrap:

Continue reading Construction Details for a Pallet Forced Air Cooler

Forced Air Cooling On The Farm

A downloadable/printable pdf of this article is available here.

Introduction

A commercial forced air cooler in a produce distribution facility

The preservation of quality in fresh market and storage crops on small and medium-sized farms in the Northeast depends on the rapid reduction of pulp temperature and maintenance of relatively low temperatures to slow metabolic respiration.

There is strong foundational work showing that rapidly reducing the temperature at the start of the cold chain increases product quality when delivered to the consumer. Postharvest handling is critical for fresh produce farmers and the markets they sell to. Effort and expense invested in growing fruits and vegetables can be wasted without good handling practices at and following harvest (Gross 2014). Consumers expect the best from fresh produce. Quality and freshness are ranked with high importance among consumers. Farmers market respondents respectively rank quality (63% ) and freshness (59%), as highly important factors in their buying decisions. Nearly 87% of the respondents indicated that availability and quality of fresh produce affected their decision about where to purchase (Gorindasamy 2002).

Precooling involves flowing a controlled, chilled fluid (air or water) over the product to improve heat transfer for removal of field heat to depress respiration and initiate the cold chain.

Figure 1—Produce packed in cartons, lugs, or other containers will not cool rapidly even when placed in a cooler. The cold air does not have sufficient velocity or pressure to pass into the center of the pallet or even to the center of a single carton, even when the containers have vented sides. Heat removal from the produce depends on conduction through produce and cartons which is slow.
Figure 2—Using a high-pressure blower, cool air can be pulled through cartons of produce to remove field heat and reduce product temperature to storage temperature more quickly. The heat removal rate from the produce is enhanced due to increased convective cooling in addition to conduction. This lowers respiration and leads to improved quality.

Precooling

This is a 4-foot tall version of a simple, portable forced air cooler. It is being used to cool a mixed pallet of fresh picked zucchini, summer squash, and peppers.

One of the most important postharvest factors influencing quality is temperature. Temperature directly impacts the rate of metabolic respiration and associated decay. Produce which is not cooled quickly degrades in quality (Sargeant 1991). Table grapes, for example, deteriorate more in 1 hour at 90 °F then in one day at 39 °F or one week at 32 °F (Thomson et al 2008). Lower quality leads to a decrease in sales, inefficient use of storage space, and wasted labor due to the time taken to grow, clean, and store product that doesn’t sell. Coolers are a good addition to most farms but fall short of meeting optimal precooling needs. When produce is packed in boxes, stacked on a pallet and directly placed into a cooler, cooling time will be a minimum of 24 hours and may take many days. (Thompson et al 2008).

One method to reduce cooling time is through forced air cooling (FAC). In FAC systems, refrigeration cools a space and blowers are set in position to actively draw the cold air through the produce. The cooling time drops from 24 hours to 10 hours or less when using a static cold room due to the increased air flow (increased convective heat transfer) (Thompson et al 2008, Boyette 1989).

Attempts have been made at smaller scale pre-coolers to reduce field heat at harvest in absence of coolers (Thompson and Spinoglio 1996). Retrofitting a cargo container with insulation and cooling with a large capacity air conditioner was also explored (Boyette & Rohrbach 1990). This forced-air cold room offered space for many pallets of produce but it still took many hours to reduce the temperature internally, especially for the boxes on pallets in the center of the container. The key is integrating both cooling and air flow effectively (see Figures 1 & 2).

A mobile forced air cold box mounted on a trailer was constructed and demonstrated in Florida (Talbot and Fletcher 1993) aimed at farms growing produce on 5-50 acres. This unit could be self-built. Experiments showed that grapes could be cooled by 15 °F per hour. For denser produce like melons and tomatoes, the cooling times were longer. The construction cost at that time was close to $5,000.

We have built prototype FAC’s for a single, fully or partially loaded pallet (figure 2) and also a 1-3 carton (either bulb crate or 1 1/9th bushel box) “counter-top” model. The construction details of these units are provided on the following pages of the PDF linked above.

123 lbs of Watermelons will take a long time to cool, but forced air cooling removed field heat 2 times faster than ambient room cooling.

Key Points of Precooling

  • Starts the cold chain by rapidly reducing respiration.
  • Reduced respiration leads to higher quality over a longer storage and distribution time.
  • Cooling is improved with the combination of active cooling and forced air flow with a blower.
  • 1-3 CFM of airflow at 0.5 IWC static pressure per pound of product is the rule of thumb for sizing.
  • Ventilated containers (e.g. holes or slats) are necessary to ensure airflow is actually through the product.
  • Close up any large openings to prevent short-circuiting air flow.

Build Plans

Sound like a good idea to you? Build plans are available for both of these prototypes!

For the pallet-sized unit check out this post –> http://go.uvm.edu/palletcooler

This is a video from a field trial of a modified pallet sized cooler! https://youtu.be/Ccy5KxrVhPk

For the counter-top forced air cooler, take a look here –> http://go.uvm.edu/countertopfac

Acknowledgments

Funding for this publication was made possible, in part, by the USDA NE SARE program under grant #LNE16-347.

Simple Ergonomics and Lean Thinking at Chewonki Farm

I recently visited Chewonki, a school, camp, and farm in Wisscasset, ME that had a recent visit from an ergonomics consultant at their beautiful new pack shed. Some insurance companies offer these visits for free as an injury (and claim) prevention measure.

Several things that struck me:

  • They were experimenting with different heights for wash bins, harvest crate landing zones, and drying racks using combinations of cinder blocks, stacked pallets and adjustable kitchen racks. They have a constantly changing work crew of different ages and physical abilities. I thought it was a great way of settling into a new workspace and getting a feel for efficiency, flow, and positions of things before committing with permanent fixtures.
    Lessons learned:

    • bring the work to you, and
    • prototype your layout before building anything permanent.

 

  • The tool shed attached to the wash packed shed was highly organized. Again, with a dynamic, changing crew it is important that tool location be standard and searching be minimized.
    Lessons learned:

    • a place for everything, and everything in its place.

 

  • I loved the lighter grey stock tankss / waterers they were using. They allow easy checks for water change timing (vs. darker materials).
    Lessons learned:

    • consider all options when purchasing what seems like a simple, standard thing
    • passive solutions to challenges often come at little to no cost premium.

Thanks to the fine fine folks at Chewonki for hosting me and sharing some of the great work they’re doing. They also have a whale skeleton hanging in one of their main halls. That is another story.