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. Continue reading Forced Air Cooling On The Farm

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!