UVM Extension Ag Engineering

Last Fall we surveyed growers in the region about postharvest topics in preparation for a USDA NE SARE proposal. That proposal has been funded! Growers who responded assigned a high level of importance to aggregated postharvest knowledge (4.5/5.0, n=56) while indicating poor availability of the information (3.3/5.0, n=57). Several ideas for research topics were provided as well.

Our project will consolidate existing knowledge, best practices and new developments about postharvest equipment, infrastructure, and buildings into a print publication, a web-based handbook, workshop curriculum / educational materials, and recorded videos.

Our work will include (1) research into equipment and construction practices that are not common in the region and also (2) documentation of current best practices through case studies highlighting specific farms.

The seven question survey was administered electronically with outreach conducted via social media and established vegetable and berry listservs.

  • Geographic Distribution – A total of 57 responses were received from 11 states. Most were within the northeast region (86%), but some were not. States outside of the northeast included Michigan and Indiana.
  • Scale Distribution – The respondents represented farms of various size from <⅓ acre to 400 acres growing a wide range of fruits and vegetables.
  • 91% Value Postharvest Information – When asked to rate the “importance of information and knowledge about postharvest handling, washing, and storage systems and practices”, a majority of respondents (91%) answered either 4 or 5 on a scale of 1-5 (1=Not important, 5=Extremely important). The mean average response was 4.5/5.0 (n=56).
  • 58% Indicate Low Availability – When asked to rate the “the availability of information and knowledge about postharvest handling, washing, and storage systems and practices”, a majority of respondents (58%) answered 3 or below on a scale of 1-5 (1=Not available, 5=Extremely easy to find). A vast majority (93%) rated availability as 4 or below. The mean average response was 3.3/5.0 (n=57).
  • Topics of Interest – When presented with a randomized list of suggested topics and asked, “What topics would you like to have more information and knowledge about?”, respondents (n=57 with 415 individual topic responses) expressed interest in more information and knowledge in the following order:
    • Building and Construction Designs (70% of respondents),
    • Layout, flow, and organization (70%),
    • Utilities (Electric, Water, Heat, Refrigeration, etc.) (56%),
    • Building Materials (49%),
    • Greens Spinners (46%),
    • Dunk/Dump Tanks (42%),
    • Spray Tables (40%),
    • Wash Lines (39%),
    • Bubblers (39%),
    • Barrel/Drum Washers (37%),
    • Brush Washers (28%),
    • Bunch Washers (28%),
    • Rinse Conveyors (26%),
    • Conveyors (26%),
    • Forced Air Coolers (26%),
    • Hydrocoolers (18%).
    • Respondents offered additional topics of interest including
      • forced air dryers,
      • greens shakers (for drying),
      • ways to minimize washing (for produce safety reasons),
      • best practices by crop,
      • wash water discharge guidance,
      • processing topics, and
      • distribution/marketing channel best practices.
  • Sources of Information – When presented with a randomized list of suggested sources and asked, “What sources do you use for information about these topics?”, respondents (n=57 with 334 individual source responses) indicated use of sources in the following order:
    • Other Farmers (82% of respondents),
    • Conferences (68%),
    • Extension (65%),
    • Web-research (60%),
    • Grower meetings, twilight meetings, etc. (51%),
    • Experience (From apprenticing/early career) (49%),
    • Books or Journals (42%),
    • Listservs / email lists (40%),
    • YouTube (30%),
    • Community Based Organization (e.g. NOFA, CISA, etc.) (28%),
    • Instagram (26%),
    • Facebook (18%),
    • Podcasts (16%), and
    • Other Social Media (9%).
    • Only one respondent offered an additional source of information, Google (<2%).
  • Other Feedback – Several respondents voiced thanks for the proposed work and some provided specific, additional feedback as follows.
    • “It would be useful to have a resource list of professionals who could help with systems–builders with experience doing ag-specific projects, plumbers and electricians who understand the goals. Sometimes it makes sense to hire someone but it’s hard to figure out who that could be.”
    • “I’ve had great difficulty finding this information.”
    • “I have a very small urban farm that I run less than part-time by myself. Post harvest processes are a major factor in determining what I grow. Knowing storage temps, shelf live, best packaging and washing strategies for specific crops is important to help evaluate required time and profit. Thanks!”
    • “Our main problem is finding multi-use scale appropriate tools and systems. It feels as though most of the tools out there push you to scale up.”
    • “I like where this is going…ea. market has different coolers, tables, walk-ins, reach-ins etc. we are finding the heat from our reach-in makes the market too warm after the doors are closed at night and that if we put table display items – zuke, squash, peppers back in the walk-in the flesh can’t take the change in temps, so we have started just to move them to a cool room but would love to hear what other markets do.”
    • “Tools and techniques to train staff on these practices quickly yet thoroughly in a high turn-over system.”
    • “You are a huge help to farmers. Keep the ideas and info coming. Would love an annual conference/forum on this topic alone. In conjunction with VVBGA as an add-on day”
    • “Difficult to obtain centralized information about wash and pack – bits and pieces strewn all across the web. Looking forward to the results of your project – I don’t want to spend time re-inventing the wheel, I just want solid templates I can steal.  Thank you!”
    • “Maybe create a series of wash/pack set ups for different acreage…ie 1-2 acres might look like this, 3-19 might look like this, 20-49 might include this. Basically provide a “minimum” of what you really need, then how it would change as you grow.”
    • “We are going to need to replace our root vegetable wash/pack line at some point. It would be great to get some input on what is available and where to source from.”
    • “We are currently building a new wash pack house and found UVM’s ag engineering blog filled with great info and was a key resource in our planning. Finally, someone is talking about this stuff, Thank you.”
    • “Thank you for delving into this! Much needed and overlooked!”
    • “It would be great to have a list of which crops can be washed in which pieces of equipment.”

Do you have interest in participating in this project?  Have a great postharvest solution or tip to share?  Think there should be a solution to a continual postharvest problem?  Get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.

Staying Ahead in the Packshed: Postharvest Topics, Sources of Information, and Ideas from Growers

Last Fall we surveyed growers in the region about postharvest topics in preparation for a USDA NE SARE proposal. That proposal has been funded! Growers who responded assigned a high level of importance to aggregated postharvest knowledge (4.5/5.0, n=56) while indicating poor availability of the information (3.3/5.0, n=57). Several ideas for research topics were provided as well.

Continue reading “Staying Ahead in the Packshed: Postharvest Topics, Sources of Information, and Ideas from Growers”

Getting Started with a Growth Chamber

We’ve received a number of inquiries about building germination chambers so we have decided to provide some consolidated resources and guidance.

An important first step is to consider what the purpose of the chamber actually is.  There are a number of horticultural practices that benefit from dedicated, environmentally controlled spaces. These include germination, starting, propagation/transplanting, sprouting of tubers and rhizomes, and grafting. These all fall under the category of “growth chambers.”

Continue reading “Getting Started with a Growth Chamber”

FSMA PSA Training – Middlebury, VT – 3/19

UVM Extension in partnership with the VT Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets is hosting a FSMA Produce Safety Alliance Grower Training in Middlebury on March 19, 2019.  More information is available at https://www.regonline.com/producesafetyalliancemiddlebury and below.

Click the image to view the printable PDF invitation.
Continue reading “FSMA PSA Training – Middlebury, VT – 3/19”

Launching of The Ag Engineering Podcast?!

Hello friends and farmers!

I am excited to share a new idea and am looking for your feedback and support! Today, I am releasing Episode 0 of the UVM Extension Ag Engineering Podcast! This is a short form audio segment on tools, tips, and techniques to improve the sustainability of your farm.

This is a trial episode to introduce the idea, and give you a feel for what to expect. It is 5 minutes in duration, but I expect future episodes will be 10-20 minute interviews with farmers talking about a specific piece of equipment or farming practice that has changed their farm for the better.

Have a listen, and let me know what you think! If you want to hear more or have a topic idea I’d love to hear it. You can either e-mail me at andrew.chamberlin@uvm.edu or enter your comments in this survey.

Thanks!
-Andy

Vegetable Wash Sinks, Tanks, Tubs and Basins: Upgrades for Efficiency and Ergonomics

A pdf of this blog post can be downloaded here.

Produce wash sinks and tanks on vegetable farms consist of several different styles, designs, sizes, and uses. The needs vary from farm to farm but some features to consider are highlighted here. Some common basins for washing vegetables could include the following.

  • Kitchen sinks
  • Utility Sinks
  • Livestock watering tanks
    • Sheep stock tank
    • Rubbermaid stock tank
  • Repurposed dairy milk bulk tanks
  • Maple sap tanks
  • Restaurant Sinks
    • Double bay
    • Triple bay
    • With or without drainboards

Continue reading “Vegetable Wash Sinks, Tanks, Tubs and Basins: Upgrades for Efficiency and Ergonomics”

Last Resort Farm: Post Harvest Case Study (Video Series)

Silas Doyle-Burr is managing Last Resort Farm in Monkton, VT, taking over the operations from his parents on the farm he grew up at. The farm was purchased in 1987, and transitioned from dairy farming to vegetable production in 1993, and now grow 26 different crops split just about evenly retail vs. wholesale. The following link is a playlist of videos taken with Silas showcasing some of the features implemented to turn a dairy barn into a vegetable wash and pack space. 

  1. Highlight video (1min)
  2. Overview of Last Resort Farm and the decisions behind building out this space (9min)
  3. The benefits, decision, and concerns of the build (5min)
  4. The details of the coolers instrumentation and controls (6min)

Cooler Construction Options – Walls and Panels

There are many options when it comes to constructing a walk-in cooler, cold room, or warm room for on-farm storage.

The main goals for construction of any temperature and humidity controlled space are:

  • Insulate the walls to provide for efficiency temperature control against a different outside temperature (which may be an warmer inside space)
  • Seal corners and seams to prevent air and rodent infiltration
  • Protect framing and insulation with smooth, cleanable materials and vapor barrier to prevent moisture and condensation inside the walls.

The resources below should provide an overview of common cooler wall construction options. Continue reading “Cooler Construction Options – Walls and Panels”

Mighty Clean and Comfortable (Video Series)

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.

We’ve already posted a write-up about this case study here, but we just released videos that go along with it! In the playlist below there is an intro video, followed by a video showing the washing process in the new space (2min), the use of a Grindstone Barrel Washer on carrots and beets (2min) as well as the full-length interview (11min) with Lisa about the project. Enjoy!

 

The BarnHouse: Optimized for Modern Day Vegetable Farming at Footprint Farm

 Download the PDF Fact Sheet of this Post Harvest Case Study Here!

Taylor Hutchison and Jake Mendel own and operate Footprint Farm in Starksboro, VT. Starting their own farm in 2013, they now produce pretty much everything except storage potatoes and storage squash with 66 different kinds of vegetables grown in both fields and high-tunnels.

The new barn features everything needed for their diversified vegetable farm. In fact, it’s so efficient they live on the 2nd floor!

Continue reading “The BarnHouse: Optimized for Modern Day Vegetable Farming at Footprint Farm”

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