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.

Finding a Better Way: Engineering on the Farm (Podcast)

Check out episode 10 of this podcast with Chris Callahan, and Trevor Hardy from Brookdale Fruit Farm talking about engineering on the Farm! Full series available on iTunes.


The Our Farms, Our Future podcast series brings together the sustainable agriculture community for thought-provoking conversations about the state of agriculture, how we got here, and where we’re headed. With each episode, we hope to share different perspectives within the sustainable agriculture community while tackling such topics as building resilient farming systems, farm profitability, and fostering community through local food systems.

This series is being produced in conjunction with the Our Farms, Our Future conference, held in April 2018 to coincide with SARE’s 30th anniversary.

For this episode, two agricultural engineers discuss adapting innovation on the farm.

Trevor Hardy is manager of one of New England’s largest distributors of agricultural supplies at Brookdale Fruit Farm in Hollis, New Hampshire. Chris Callahan is an agricultural engineer with University of Vermont Extension. Both guests say engineering plays a crucial role in synthesizing the newest research and technology with the diversity and complexity of farming practices on the ground.

Click the image to open the podcast page, and listen to Episode 10!

A Better Way to Pick Strawberries

Tried and tested, the Picking Assistant by Crop Care works great for picking strawberries! Using both hands to “swim” through the plants helps you become efficient and thorough at picking. This machine is also great for weeding or planting other crops as well. More information about their new model can be found here: https://cropcareequipment.com/vegetable_equip/picking_assistant.phpI have experience using a Picking Assistant, and it has been a game changer on the farm! Here is a video of it in action.

 

Greens Spinners for Farm Use

Download the PDF Fact Sheet Here!

Introduction

An important factor in growing and selling high-quality greens is being able to efficiently wash, cool, and dry the product. The drying step is commonly done using centrifugal force in a spinner.  The water is spun off of the greens through a filter basket or other porous container.  Some growers use mesh bags to contain the greens and improve the efficiency of loading and unloading the spinner.

Some of the key features to consider when thinking about a spinner include cost, capacity, power, space and sanitary design.

Cost

There is a broad range of spinners available and they vary considerably in cost.  Your budget may dictate which option you choose. But, consider the other features below as well. For example, a less expensive, converted washing machine spinner may actually cost more in cleaning labor when compared to a machine designed to be cleaned.

Capacity

How big is each batch or how much do you need to dry in a day?  Keep in mind that a 5-gallon spinner cannot adequately dry 5 gallons of greens since there needs to be room for the greens to spread out and not create an overly thick mat that water can’t get through. A rough rule of thumb is 1.1 gal of spinner volume for 1.0 lb of greens. Continue reading Greens Spinners for Farm Use

All About Alliums – Twilight Meeting

High Meadows Farm

Onions laid out in a single layer for curing in a greenhouse.

July 12, 2018

5 – 7 PM

FREE

Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1661423530613433/

Join Howard Prussack of High Meadows Farm, University of Vermont Agricultural Engineer Chris Callahan and Cornell Cooperative Extension Vegetable Specialist Crystal Stewart for a field walk discussing garlic and onion production and postharvest handling. The event will include a focus on Fusarium control practices, a hands-on demonstration of Allium Leaf Miner identification and discussion of control strategies, followed by a discussion of post-harvest handling best practices and ways to achieve these conditions at your farm.

Curing garlic in a high tunnel. The garlic is carefully stacked to allow air distribution among the heads for even curing.

High Meadows farm is a 65 Acre organic, diversified vegetable farm of rolling hills, fertile soils, surrounded by oak and maple woodlands. Situated just a short drive from the center of Putney, VT, it is Vermont’s oldest certified organic Farm. Howard Prussack and his team have been providing the community and greater New England with premium organic vegetables and potted plant plants since 1979.

UVM Extension helps individuals and communities put research-based knowledge to work. University of Vermont Extension, and U.S. Department of Agriculture, cooperating, offer education and employment to everyone without regard to race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, and marital or familial status.

To request a disability-related accommodation to participate in this program, please contact Chris Callahan at 802-447-7582 x256 by July 5 so we may assist you.

For more information, please contact Chris Callahan, chris.callahan@uvm.edu, 802-447-7582 x256.

Produce Safety in Broccoli

Chris recently teamed up with Dr. Elizabeth Bihn of Cornell University and the Produce Safety Alliance to provide a webinar on produce safety aspects of broccoli production.  This work is part of a larger USDA SCRI project focused on Eastern Broccoli as a specialty crop with economic importance and potential in the region.

This webinar focused on the impact of the Food Safety Modernization Act and specifically the Produce Safety Rule on broccoli production in the eastern United States.

A recording of the webinar is available on YouTube and is embedded below.

The presentation slides are available here.

Floor Design for Vegetable Wash, Pack and Storage Areas

Download the PDF Fact Sheet Here!

Introduction

It is easy to ignore the thing beneath our feet, but floors are an important part of produce wash and pack areas that deserve special attention. They can impact efficiency, ergonomics, employee health, worker fatigue, personnel safety, and produce safety.  There are also a number of design features involved with these seemingly simple structures that should be considered1,2.

No two wash-pack areas are the same. Every farm has different needs driven by different crops, scales of production, layout, existing infrastructure, and management approaches.

Smaller market farms may have a very simple, open packshed design consisting of “four sticks and a lid” used primarily during the summer months. The floor of these structures could be anything: a dirt floor, grass, or gravel surface. If you choose to have a dirt floor, consider laying down weed mat or landscape fabric to create a tidy work environment. It is helpful to consider drainage, specifically providing intentional drains from wash tanks and sinks that direct outflow away from the work area, production areas and bodies of water.  The intent is to keep the surface underfoot relatively dry and free of standing water, prevent cross-contamination between drainage water and production areas and to prevent nutrient loading in bodies of water.

Larger farms and those engaged in season extension and winter markets may find benefit from an improved floor, permanent roof and walls.  When scaling up, consider the benefits of an enclosed packshed which can provide:

  • Protection from the elements as you work further into the shoulder seasons. Cooler working environment in the summer for you, your crew, the produce, and your equipment or warmer (if heated) in the fall, winter, and spring.
  • Cleaner environment for handling produce and storing containers. An enclosed space is more “cleanable” as it has doors and windows to keep dust, bugs, birds and other wildlife away from you and your produce.
This farm considered retrofitting a wash/pack room into an existing barn, but opted for the more expensive, but more flexible route of new construction.  The single-story building started with pouring a slab on grade which allowed the inclusion of trench drains. The floor is smooth, but not slippery. Note expansion joints in the floor to prevent cracking.  This building houses the wash/pack area, several coolers, break room, and a retail/CSA space.

There are several different key elements to a floor that you need to take into consideration when designing your new packshed. Continue reading Floor Design for Vegetable Wash, Pack and Storage Areas

Great Lakes EXPO Highlight Video

The Great Lakes Expo is a very large agriculture conference in Grand Rapids, MI. Here are some snippets from the trip and some vendors that were showcasing their products.