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

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.

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

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