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

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.

 

Produce Safety Record-keeping Requirements & Tools: Presentation

This presentation discusses several different options for record keeping and tracking of produce safety documents and farm logs on an online interface. This was recorded at the Great Lakes Expo in Grand Rapids Michigan December 2017 and given by Chris Callahan UVM Extension, Ag Engineering.

Post Harvest Handling & Storage for Small Farms

This presentation was given by Chris Callahan from at the Great Lakes Expo in Grand Rapids Michigan in December 2017. He discusses the differences between fruit and vegetable storage needs, finish surfaces for wash/pack areas or coolers as well as temperature and humidity controls.

 

A frequently asked question we get is about vapor barrier usage in coolers. See Chris’ answer below addressing that question. This video shot is pulled from the above presentation and was shared on our Instagram page.