Scaling Up Production by Improving Worker Comfort and Efficiency in No-till Organic Seed Garlic Production System

Final Report for FNC10-799

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2010: $3,705.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Coordinator:
Daniel Perkins
Perkins' Good Earth Farm
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Project Information


Scaling Up Production by Improving Worker Comfort and Efficiency in minimum-till Organic Seed Garlic Production System.

Design and fabricate a planting, weeding, and harvesting cart that reduces stooping, crawling and kneeling in a minimum, hand-planted organic seed garlic production system.


Perkins’ Good Earth Farm is a small family farm that operates on 19 acres: 11 acres mixed forest and 8 acres tillable ground, with 1/8 acre in hoophouse vegetable production and ¼ acre in garlic production.  In 2013, we will be entering our 4 year of organic garlic and vegetable production.  We market our vegetables through a 15-member Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model and direct market sales.  We offer over winter spinach, carrots, and early season tomatoes, peppers, basil, and cucumbers. We offer gourmet seed and eating garlic via the internet and direct sales.  We hope to increase our gourmet garlic production by 50% over the next couple of years.

We are in our establishment years and have been improving infrastructure and capacity while exploring market opportunities in our region.  Gourmet seed garlic production has proved profitable on an initial starting scale and we desire to expand production over the next couple years.  Having never farmed in sandy loams until this current farm, our recent switch to minimum techniques for garlic production has been critical to ensuring sustainability of our farm under intensive production.  It also presents unique challenges for management.  This project seeks to address some of the management and growth challenges with an appropriate cart design for easing labor fatigue while planting into a living cover crop, mulching with straw, and harvesting garlic.   
Stooping, squatting or crawling for hours in our seed garlic and vegetable production have started to take its toll on our knees and backs.  Our hardneck seed garlic production is particularly difficult, as it must be planted by hand to meet our market demands and for high quality production.  In order to increase profits sustainably, we must increase our production; while at the same time reduce our planting, weeding, and harvesting labor fatigue and costs.  Our high residue system from planting into actively growing cover crops presents a unique management challenge.

Project Objectives:

Our solution to this problem involved research, design, and field experience. 

  1. Conducted a literature and industry review of current sustainable agriculture solutions for labor efficiency in relation to lying down or sitting-harvest and planting carts.
  2. We then design and build a prototype of a cart specific to our garlic production, with features gleaned from the literature review.
    1. Dr. Dennis Buckmaster, Agricultural and Biological Engineering associate professor at Purdue University, will utilize several seniors from his capstone course to take on the design and fabrication of the cart.  A local welder, Ken Knip, has a shop next door to the farm and he, along with Purdue facilities, will be utilized for fabrication. 
    2. During the winter and early spring of 2012 a basic cart will be constructed, and in July during the harvest of garlic, it will be field trialed.
    3.  After harvest is complete we will tweak our design as needed and utilize the chart for planting in October 2012. 
    4. During the winter of 2013 we will further improve the cart and design and utilize the cart for the following 2013 planting and harvest.  We will then have two seasons of field level experience and feedback from which to make improvements.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Ken Knip
  • Bryan Overstreet
  • Julie Perkins


Materials and methods:

We wanted to conduct a thorough literature/industry review for cart plans for specialized harvest carts that address stooping, kneeling, and crawling related injuries so we wouldn’t reinvent the wheel, but could also improve and adapts all the best features.  We discovered, however, all the carts were designed for strawberry or greens production, not for garlic planting or mulching or use in a living cover crop system. Utilizing a Purdue student to do this research proved successful and a well-documented report was produced that helped in the design process.

Utilizing Purdue Ag Engineering students was good and bad. The good was that we had no specific timeframe, besides the grant end date, so that gave us flexibility and plenty of time to work.  It also provided labor, skills, and materials I didn’t have to complete the project.  I would advise to plan on delays.  Students are very busy as well as professors and priorities and staff changes made this project difficult to complete because of student turnover.  The project was handed over 4 times, from a group of seniors, to a group of sophomores students, and finally one senior who needed a senior project to graduate was able to construct the cart, but not get it functioning.  A group of 2 students spent another semester trying to make the cart functional in the field.  Hydraulic driven motor was creating significant problems.  This delayed things significantly.  This required multiple meetings at the farm with different students, which we enjoyed and they did to, but required more time.   As of the end of this grant, the cart is still at Purdue for another group of students to finalize it.  Hoping to use in Fall 2014 for planting.    


Research results and discussion:

The purpose was to ease labor fatigue where the most strain/ergonomic stress was occurring.  We tracked time by the minute per task during the season to see if total time on a task or the actual nature of the task was the issue (see chart below).  We assessed the most stressful ergonomic was occurring at planting and mulching.  It wasn’t necessarily where the most labor time was spent as our analysis as part of this project revealed that harvesting/hanging to cure took the most time, but was not very ergonomically stressful.   This lead to a focus on a cart that would primarily aid with planting and mulching fatigue.

We hope to see improvement in planting time as well, to be more efficient, but until we can use the cart in Fall 2014 we cannot measure such an improvement, but we expect to see significant gains.

Impact of Results/Outcomes

Dr. Buvkmaster, associate professor of Agricultural Engineering at Purdue University, provided a student to conduct a literature and industry review of current sustainable agriculture solutions for labor efficiency in relation to lying down or sitting-harvest and planting carts. This is available as a pdf on this site and was additionally enhanced by one of the Ag Engineering students who constructed the actual cart. We wanted to learn from the past work of others but also improve and adapt to our current needs.

We then designed and built a prototype of a cart specific to our garlic production, with features gleaned from the literature review. Photos are available in the pdf of Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Conference Presentation that we gave in Feb of 2014.  

Due to various delays - turnover in students and professors working on the project - the cart is currently not fully functioning and we have not trialed it.  Summer of 2014 it should be fully functional and first trials will begin at planting in October of 2014.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Literature Review of current available garlic planting options is available as pdf on the SARE website.

In addition to the multiple groups of students and professors from Purdue who came to the farm to assess what we needed in the design phase, we told others by presenting at the Small Farm Conference in MS (25 in audience, 5 follow-up emails and phone calls) and at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Conference (30 in audience, 2 follow up emails and calls). 

We also hosted two garlic growing workshops at our farm (25 total), were we showed pictures and talked about the SARE project.  The literature review of available equipment is available as a pdf on the SARE website and will soon be posted on our farm website, once the cart has been used in Fall of 2014.

A presentation was given at the 2014 NCR-SARE Farmers Forum, held in conjunction with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) Conference. A video recording of this is available online through NCR-SARE's YouTube channel. Use the following link to view the video:

Project Outcomes


Potential Contributions

Kevin Cooley, Cooley Family Farm: advised on initial design and shared his experience with his strawberry picking carts he designed

Bryan Overstreet, Jasper County Purdue Extension:  gave list of area farmers who maybe interested in project.

Ken Knip: providing welding service and advice on construction and adaptions.

Dr.Buckmaster from Purdue provided initial group of students to get project started and engineering design advising.

Dr. Murphy from Purdue provided next student, Max M who did final Autocad design and actually constructed cart, but did not get it running in field.

Dr. Stwalley from Purdue provided the last two students who got the cart running and almost functional.  Summer 2014 will involve more changes to make it finally ready for use for Fall 2014 planting.

Future Recommendations

Keep the project simple and straight forward.  Don’t try to do it all in one project.  Solve the main problem, keep that as the goal.

The literature review was great and really served us well for guiding design and giving us other ideas to implement on the farm. 

Working with students is great, but cart is still being worked on, we may just end up pulling with tractor in end, the 2014 season will tell.  Be careful that student desire for “cool project” or using motors, may not be the best solution for your farm.  We would have been better off going with a non-motorized cart as it is simpler and would have served for planting.

The cart will be usable by this fall whether by pulling or self-motorized.  This will allows us to expand production significantly without increasing labor fatigue and stress.

I would highly recommend a SARE grant to a farmer with a need and innovative ideas who is willing to work with others and share information.


Information Products

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.