Coveyou Scenic Farms (Coveyou Farms LLC) is a 144-year-old family farm that grows roughly 30 acres of certified organic produce on their 330 acre farm. The farm sells its vegetables to the local and regional area around Petoskey, Michigan. The farm uses a wide array of sustainable practices in its operation including geothermal cooling of produce walk-in storage, on-farm market display coolers, and produce heat removal system. Additionally, geothermal is used to heat a vegetable seed transplant greenhouse and grow salad greens all winter. The farm generates most of the electrical power needed with a solar PV array.
Greens harvesting is done at scale when grown in the field during the summer season with specialized mechanized harvesters. The winter greenhouse growing systems that use soil filled trays don’t have a mechanized harvester commercially available that fits the scale of these operations. There is a true need in the agriculture community for an automated belt feed tray harvesting system that can remove the painfully slow process of hand harvesting microgreens and winter grown salad greens. The few tools that are on the market for growers are hand held and too small and often use a band saw technique that does not work well for small greens and tears the greens cut point resulting in more cosmetic damage, poorer shelf life, and results in a longer time for regrowth. The purpose of this grant is to use our engineering background to develop and demonstrate a salad greens automated harvesting bench top tool that could cleanly harvest greens at least 10x faster than by hand and with greater precision for improved regrowth and a higher quality product. This tool, after demonstration, would be commercialized and made available to the agriculture production community.
Design and demonstrate a tray-based automated greens harvesting system that is at least 10x faster than hand harvesting resulting in winter greens production being more economically viable.
We believe this is a very innovative project that is working to solve a real world agriculture technical challenge with innovative technical design. The fact that the marketplace is lacking a tool with this capability reinforces the need as the face of agriculture expands to include more greenhouse and non-field production of food.
A few of the design attributes targeted include:
- Belt feed of tray with adjustable belt speed
- Easy and adjustable cutting height
- Easily adjustable for various tray widths
- Harvested greens storage with easy access
- Made with all food safe materials
- Easily cleanable after harvest
- Plan to use a novel cutting system
- Incorporate operator safety into the design
- Operating speed 10x faster than hand harvest with stretch goal of 20x
- Commercially manufacturable here in the Midwest
- Designed for small-mid volume farmer affordability
This project being a tool design and development project has a very straightforward and logical process of development. The first step is understanding the problem which is two fold. We understand the need for a harvesting tool and what it needs to do from our work in growing salad greens for a number of years and observing the difficulty of small/medium scale production with hand harvesting. Knowledge of the harvesting process and the growth characteristics of the greens is essential for successful tool development. The second part of understanding the problem is insight into what tools are available on the market and where there shortfalls are.
The second step is the design of the tool with engineering insight that will solve the problem. This step is drafting the key components in mechanical cad software with knowledge of what materials each will need to be made out of and what machining equipment is needed to make each piece.
The third step is building a prototype of all components and the complete system to prove basic functionalility and understand shortfalls and areas for improvement.
Step two and three are repeated at least twice to fine tune the outcome of the final tool with more of the supporting features of the tool added as development progresses.
The project is still in development at this time with no conclusions
Educational & Outreach Activities
No Outreach has been performed to date
Work on our project is still in the design phase. Multiple cuttings methods and cutter designs have been the initial focus of this design work. Autocad mechanical drawings of early prototypes have been made, and fabrication cost and methods are all part of the design thought process. Identifying methods to remove the cutting portion for cleaning has been one of the challenges we have worked on solving. Finding a way that allows the operator to remove the cutting system for cleaning in a fast and easy way is proving to be slightly more difficult than first envisioned.
Our work is still in process
Our work is still in process