Staying Ahead in the Packshed: Improving Postharvest Equipment and Building Guidance for Fruit and Vegetable Farms

Progress report for LNE19-375

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2019: $129,567.00
Projected End Date: 11/30/2022
Grant Recipient: University of Vermont
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Christopher Callahan
University of Vermont Extension
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Project Information

Performance Target:

One hundred (100) fruit and vegetable growers will adopt improved postharvest equipment and building practices among practices resulting in $10,000 dollars annual net benefit to each farm.

Introduction:

Postharvest design, construction, and purchase decisions should be informed by and result in labor efficiency, produce safety, product quality and overall farm profitability.  Growers in the northeast are investing in postharvest improvements as they increase production to serve increasingly demanding markets and produce safety requirements. Unfortunately, educational resources are lacking on this topic so educational programs and technical assistance tends to be ad hoc and inefficient.

This 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.

This will benefit growers by

  1. reducing the amount of individual grower research required to make postharvest decisions (i.e. reduced overhead),
  2. enabling practices that will improve labor efficiency (i.e. reduced labor expense),
  3. supporting increased capacity (i.e. increase sales)
  4. mitigating risk associated with produce safety factors (i.e. enhance sustainability.)

Research

Involves research:
No
Participation Summary

Education

Educational approach:

The educational plan is comprised of five main curricular categories with specific concepts informed by earlier stakeholder engagement.

  1. GUIDING PRINCIPLES – Location, Flow of Product, Flow of People, Lean Farming Principles, Ergonomics, Produce Safety, Sanitary/Hygienic Design, Capital Planning, Return on Investment
  2. BUILDING AND INFRASTRUCTURE – Floors and Foundations, Drains, Doors, Wall Constructions, Cleanable Materials, Cooler Options, Utilities
  3. EQUIPMENT - Containers and Bins, Equipment for Lifting and Moving, Conveyors, Washlines, Brush Washers, Rinse Conveyors, Automated Greens Washers, Greens bubblers, Barrel / Drum Washers, Dunk / Dump Tanks, Bunch Washers, Sorting Tables, Hoses, Greens Spinners
  4. OPERATIONS – Loading, Unloading, Packing, Cleaning and Sanitizing, Standard Operating Procedures, Recordkeeping
  5. MOTIVATIONS - Why do specific farms adopt and sustain certain systems or practices that are different from others (e.g. same crop, different practice… the question is Why?)

Our educational approaches will be varied (conference sessions, workshops, webinars and direct technical assistance by phone, email and social media) to enhance farmer access and engagement. A challenge with traditional formal educational events is the gap between the event and the intended decision, action or change of behavior. The project team has leveraged sustained communication to directly engage with farmers as project partners. This has led to a “relational” vs. “transactional” educational approach and eases both project execution and evaluation of impact.

APPROACH - The educational approach will include (1) assessing current practice and potential improvements, (2) summarizing grower challenges in decision making, (3) soliciting peer-teacher candidates, (4) collecting testimonial experiences, (5) researching alternatives, (6) summarizing learning from #1-5 in web-based publications and videos, (7) facilitating highly interactive webinars to facilitate distribution of learning, resources, and peer-to-peer exchange, and (8) development and delivery of at least two in-person workshops and/or meeting/conference sessions.

OUTPUTS – Educational outputs will include:

- Summaries of postharvest building construction practices including construction detail drawings that explain specific practices (e.g. designing surfaces for cleaning and sanitizing (hygienic design), concrete floors, placement and sizing of drains, vapor barrier placement, rodent management, utilities.)

- Collected examples of postharvest equipment (e.g. barrel washers, brush washers, rinse conveyors, bunch washers, spray tables, greens spinners) and associated best practices (e.g. relevant crops per machine, throughput, cleaning and sanitizing, maintenance).

- Consolidated printed publication on the topics covered by the project.  Content will also be available on the web, as a download, and augmented with additional photos and video.

- Regular webinars to provide a platform for project outreach, distribution of educational materials and a forum for peer-to-peer learning highlighting personal experiences and decisions.

- Presentation at conferences and hands-on workshops to demonstrate project findings and improve learning through active participation.

Milestones

Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

1. 50 growers reflect and share their postharvest successes and challenges. At least 10 will have actively engaged in the project as peer-teachers and case-study subjects.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
10
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
70
Proposed Completion Date:
March 31, 2020
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
March 31, 2020
Accomplishments:

Through the workshop outputs noted below, growers have been able to review and reflect on their packshed layout, equipment, and operations.  Several have served as peer-to-peer coaches and practices have been highlighted informally.  No formal case studies have been developed under this project yet.

Milestone #2 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

2. 200 growers reached through a book, online resources, workshops and webinars, and 50 report improved practice.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
50
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
717
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
12
Proposed Completion Date:
March 31, 2020
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
March 31, 2020
Accomplishments:

Workshops and distributed publications, videos and other resources reached 729 growers (1,174 contact hours) from 8 northeast states in by the period ending 3/31/20.

Milestone #3 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

3. 100 growers reached via webinar, and 150 will be reached with direct technical assistance.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
150
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
490
Proposed Completion Date:
March 31, 2022
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
March 31, 2020
Accomplishments:

Given the opportunities for live workshop delivery during this period, the team opted for that method over webinars. 

In this period 62 growers were supported in planning for specific changes in their postharvest handling spaces with 27 farm visits and 75 email or phone contacts. This led to 37 growers clarifying their plans and 11 implementing an improved practice in the reporting period.

The team has been developing a recorded version of our Postharvest Planning workshop geared to just-in-time learning for those who can't make an in-person offering. Expected completion is Aug 2020. UPDATED 2/10/2022 - following the completion of the recorded webinar on 6/5/2020 it gained a total of 490 views with 57 hours of viewing time.  There is no way to know who is watching the recordings (farmers vs. agricultural service providers.)

Milestone #4 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

4. 30 growers evaluated for learning and verification of practice adoption.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
30
Proposed Completion Date:
March 31, 2020
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
February 10, 2022
Accomplishments:

Pre- and post-workshop evaluations were conducted for the in-person workshops using a simplified self-assessment of (a) knowledge of and (b) confidence to implement improved practices. Evaluations point to statistically significant increases in both dimensions and actionable learning.

Group 1: n=12, knowledge gain was +1.1 (0-5 scale) and significant with t-test p=0.001 (99.89% confidence) and confidence gain was +1.0 (0-5 scale) and significant with a t-test p=0.0002 (99.98% confidence)

Group 2: n=23, knowledge gain was +1.0 (0-5 scale) and significant with t-test p=0.001 (99.999% confidence) and confidence gain was +1.1 (0-5 scale) and significant with a t-test p=0.0002 (99.9999% confidence)

[Evaluations were completed according to the planned milestone schedule, the analysis and this reporting was delayed].

Milestone #5 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

5. 200 additional growers are reached through a book, online resources, workshops and webinars, with an additional 25 with improved practice.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
200
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
10776
Proposed Completion Date:
March 31, 2021
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
January 16, 2021
Accomplishments:

The project team recorded a webinar version of the popular Planning for Postharvest Efficiency, Profitability, and Food Safety and made the videos available as a YouTube Playlist.

Video Resources (486 individual video views, 181 contact hours)

  • YouTube Video Series: Project Planning for Postharvest Efficiency, Profitability & Food Safety. 8 Videos. Posted June 25, 2020. 105 playlist views. 
    • Introduction (Session 1), 99 views, 14 hours view time
    • Postharvest & Produce Safety (Session 2), 65 views, 12 hours view time
    • Flow & Lean (Session 3), 67 views, 35 hours view time
    • Virtual Tour of Farms (Session 4), 63 views, 22 hours view time
    • Buildings & Infrastructure (Session 5), 73 views, 34 hours view time
    • Equipment (Session 6), 50 views, 22 hours view time
    • Tools (Session 7), 49 views, 32 hours view time
    • Executing your Plan (Session 8), 20 views, 9 hours view time

The team developed additional web and print based educational resources housed on the UVM Ext Ag Eng webpage. These resources were developed in response to repeated expressions of need from growers who have been engaged in the project.

Web resource views 1/15/2020-1/15/2021 (10,137 web resource views, 1 minute average, 169 contact hours) 

  • Safely Dispensing Sanitizers. Blog Post. December 15, 2020. 78 views.
  • Shedding Some Light in the Shed - Lighting for Indoor Work on the Farm. Blog Post. November 23, 2020. 120 views
  • Giving a Dairy Barn New Life at New Leaf Organics. Blog Post, Fact Sheet and Video Case Study. September 30, 2020. 176 views
  • Washing Machine Greens Spinners: Cleaning Tips. Blog Post. July 6, 2020. 203 views
  • Spray Tables for Produce Farms. Blog Post. June 2, 2020. 667 views
  • Improving Handwashing Stations. Blog Post and Fact Sheet. June 9, 2020. 2,617 views
  • Drains for Produce Farms. Blog Post and Fact Sheet. April 23, 2020. 966 views
  • Greens Spinners for Farm Use. Blog Post and Fact Sheet. Updated April 16, 2020. 7,944 web page views
  • Hygienic Design on Produce Farms. Video. In collaboration with Michigan State University Produce Safety Team. April 6, 2020.
  • Risks Posed by Cats on Produce Farms. Fact Sheet. Michigan State University and UVM Extension. March 14, 2020. 186 web page views.

The project team also led or participated in a number of workshops and other educational events as follows.

Workshops / Presentations (153 participants, 274 contact hours)

  • 2020      Cooler Construction Basics and Temperature and Humidity Control. Chris Callahan and Scott Sanford. Cornell Winter Crop Storage School. Cornell Cooperative Extension. December 8, 2020. [65 attendees, 2 hours, 130 contact hours.]
  • 2020      UVM Extension Horticulture Team Virtual Twilight: Bags, Bins and Liners. C. Callahan, H. Estrin, A. Chamberlin. December 2, 2020. [32 attendees, 1 hour, 32 contact hours]
  • 2020  Controlling Humidity and Condensation in Coolers. H. Bryant, M Choate, P. Franklin, C. Callahan, A. Chamberln. Virtual Summer Twilight and Video Playlist. UNH Extension and UVM Extension. July 29, 2020. [32 attendees, 2 hours, 64 contact hours]
  • 2020      AZS Rinse Conveyor Users Group Webinar. C. Callahan, A. Chamberlin, H. Shirk. Online. March 5, 2020. [24 attendees, 2 hours, 48 contact hours]

In this same period 43 growers were supported in planning for specific changes in their postharvest handling spaces with 28 farm visits and 61 email or phone contacts. This led to 30 growers clarifying their plans and 17 implementing an improved practice in the reporting period.

Milestone #6 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

6. 150 additional growers reflect and share their postharvest successes and challenges, with at least 20 of these with active engagement.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
150
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
200
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
10
Proposed Completion Date:
March 31, 2021
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
January 16, 2021
Accomplishments:

Growers and service providers have been critical informants for the work noted above and below. These engagements have taken increasingly varied forms and come to us on a variety of channels.

Milestone #7 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

7. 150 additional growers reached via webinar, 100 additional reached with direct technical assistance.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
150
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
486
Proposed Completion Date:
March 31, 2021
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
January 16, 2021
Accomplishments:

Webinar output included in MS #5 as recorded webinar.

The project team has provided in-depth direct technical assistance to 27 growers planning wash/pack projects since March 2020. These have been a combination of in-person and web-meeting based delivery and have been focused on holistic project planning. (VT 15, MA 3, NH 1, ME 2, NY 4, Other 2)

Milestone #8 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

8. 40 additional growers evaluated for learning and verification of practice adoption.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
40
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
27
Proposed Completion Date:
March 31, 2021
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

Evaluation of this project during COVID has been informal due to restrictions on travel and in-person meetings as well as recognizing the increased burden on growers to meet increased local demand for food as a result of national supply chain challenges. With restrictions being reduced, we intend to dedicate increased focus and effort on farm visits, interviews and documentation to demonstrate behavior change and adoption of practice among our participating farms.

Milestone #9 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

9. 100 additional growers reflect and share their postharvest successes and challenges, with at least 20 of these with active engagement.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
20
Proposed Completion Date:
March 31, 2022
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

Engaging with growers and asking for them to share their experiences for this project during COVID has been challenging due to restrictions on travel and in-person meetings as well as recognizing the increased burden on growers to meet increased local demand for food as a result of national supply chain challenges. With restrictions being reduced, we intend to dedicate increased focus and effort on providing opportunities for growers to share their experiences with us and others.

Milestone #10 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

10. 100 additional growers are reached through a book, online resources, workshops and webinars, with an additional 25 with improved practice.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
100
Proposed Completion Date:
March 31, 2022
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

This project has continued to partially or fully support the development of web, PDF, and video resources informed by the direct technical assistance and educational programs noted elsewhere in this report.  Of note in this reporting period (1/16/21-2/10/22) we have achieved 22,132 contacts with educational products resulting in 774 contact hours:

New Products (4,902 views, 106 contact hours):

  • Portable Handsfree Handwashing Station. Video. January 26, 2022.
  • Preventing Freezing in Produce Coolers. Blog Post. January 25, 2022. 72 views.
  • Root Washing Systems for Produce Farms. Blog Post. December 16, 2021. 464 views.
  • Warm Rooms for Storage Crops & Freeze Protection for Coolers. Blog Post. November 29, 2021. 337 views.
  • Building a Better Greens Bubbler. Blog Post, Fact Sheet and Video. October 6, 2021. 1,207 views.
  • Farm Cooler Checklist. Blog Post and Fact Sheet. September 21, 2021 revision of April 17, 2017 publication. 327 views.
  • Cleaning Tools for Produce Farms. Blog post, YouTube Video Series and Guidesheet. August 26, 2021. 938 views.
  • Repairing Cracks and Pits in Concrete Floors. Blog post, Guidesheet and YouTube Video Series. August 4, 2021. 224 views.
  • Sharpening the Edges: Wash/Pack Efficiencies in a New Farm Building at Small Axe Farm. Blog Post, Fact Sheet and Video Case Study. April 23, 2021. 517 views.
  • AZS Rinse Conveyor User’s Guide. Guide Sheet. February 22, 2021. 514 views.
  • Sanitary Design of Packing Houses: An Introduction to Hygienic Design for Produce Farms. Video playlist recorded from workshop curriculum. 7 videos, 50 minutes. February 8, 2021. 302 individual video views with a total of 30 hours of viewing.

Updates on use of work products previously developed (14,451 new views, 240 contact hours):

  • Safely Dispensing Sanitizers. Blog Post. December 15, 2020. 546 new views.
  • Shedding Some Light in the Shed - Lighting for Indoor Work on the Farm. Blog Post. November 23, 2020. 950 new views
  • Giving a Dairy Barn New Life at New Leaf Organics. Blog Post, Fact Sheet and Video Case Study. September 30, 2020. 310 new views
  • Washing Machine Greens Spinners: Cleaning Tips. Blog Post. July 6, 2020. 234 new views
  • Spray Tables for Produce Farms. Blog Post. June 2, 2020. 1,474 new views
  • Improving Handwashing Stations. Blog Post and Fact Sheet. June 9, 2020. 1,656 new views
  • Drains for Produce Farms. Blog Post and Fact Sheet. April 23, 2020. 1,137 new views
  • Greens Spinners for Farm Use. Blog Post and Fact Sheet. Updated April 16, 2020. 8,066 new views
  • Risks Posed by Cats on Produce Farms. Fact Sheet. Michigan State University and UVM Extension. March 14, 2020. 78 new views.

Integrated Postharvest Products (2,779 contacts, 428 contact hours)- The primary, integrated work product of the project is a multi-media publication, "Planning an Efficient and Safe Wash-Pack Area". This resource lives as a web landing page and also as a video playlist built from a recorded webinar.

  • Web Page -  1,694 new views, 30 contact hours
  • Videos -  There have been a total of 1085 individual video views with a total of 398 hours of viewing.
    • Introduction (Session 1), 126 new views, 225 total views, 31 total hours view time
    • Postharvest & Produce Safety (Session 2), 87 new views, 152 total views, 28 total hours view time
    • Flow & Lean (Session 3), 84 new views, 151 total views, 79 total hours view time
    • Virtual Tour of Farms (Session 4), 74 new views, 137 total views, 49 total hours view time
    • Buildings & Infrastructure (Session 5), 106 new views, 179 total views, 84 total hours view time
    • Equipment (Session 6), 59 new views, 109 total views, 47 total hours view time
    • Tools (Session 7), 40 new views, 89 total views, 58 total hours view time
    • Executing your Plan (Session 8), 23 new views, 43 total views, 20 total hours view time

 

Milestone #11 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

11. 50 additional growers reached via webinar, 50 additional reached with direct technical assistance.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
50
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
179
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
11
Proposed Completion Date:
March 31, 2022
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
February 10, 2022
Accomplishments:

Two virtual workshops were organized with farmer partners to share their postharvest project experiences. These workshops engaged a total of 87 participants with 131 contact hours.

2021      Packshed Improvements for Efficiency and Food Safety. MOFGA Farmer to Farmer. A. Chamberlin, P. O’Brien, and C Callahan. November 5, 2021. [27 attendees, 1.5 hours, 41 contact hours]

2021      Postharvest Planning for Profit, Efficiency & Food Safety. C. Callahan, D. Allen, T. Mendell, D. Paulk, C. Alexander. New Hampshire Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, Winter Conference, Virtual. March 27, 2021. [60 attendees, 1.5 hours, 90 contact hours]

Direct technical assistance was provided to 97 growers in this reporting period through a combination of phone, email, social media, and web meeting consultation.  The majority of these interactions were motivated by very near term needs to make decisions about building design, equipment purchase, or operational changes. Approximately 50% of the consultations were with farms developing plans in support of grant or loan applications for significant capital infrastructure projects (>$50,000). The team has developed a refined approach for web-based remote consultation as a result of this project. The project team has provided in-depth direct technical assistance to 14 additional growers planning wash/pack projects since March 2021. These have been a combination of in-person and web-meeting based delivery and have been focused on holistic project planning. (VT 14, MA 1, NH 1, ME 5, Other outside northeast region 3).

Milestone #12 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

12. 30 additional growers evaluated for learning and verification of practice adoption.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
30
Proposed Completion Date:
March 31, 2022
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

Although the the project has lead to significant engagement with farmer participants and also publication of resources with high levels of use, we feel additional time would be beneficial to enable (a) evaluation of project impact, (b) additional resource development, and (c) consolidation and upload of information products.

Specifically, we anticipate reduced COVID restrictions allowing improved ability to engage growers over the upcoming growing season from Spring to Fall 2022 in order to catch the postharvest "improvements in action."

Additionally, we are in discussion with a publisher to write a book that serves as a consolidated resource on postharvest handling and storage for small and medium scale farms. A chapter outline has been created and early conversations point to interest on the part of the publisher.  Additional time for this project would help better prepare for the publication of such a book which would likely be outside of the grant period. 

Finally, it is noted that we have developed or updated a wide range of information products as a result of this project. While they are available on our program information channels, it is also understood that they are to be uploaded as information products to the SARE reporting system.  We would appreciate additional time to perform this task.

If a no-cost extension until 11/30/22 is feasible, the project team would be grateful.

Additional Project Outcomes

Additional Outcomes:

A key part of this project involves summarizing known sources of different pieces of equipment and other materials used in packsheds.  In an effort to collect this information the team has attended tradeshows or visited manufacturers directly.  To date, we have accumulated 11 such visits and developed a list of 44 manufacturers of packshed equipment for future research and conversation. (2020 03 31)

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.