Final report for LNE19-375
This project focused on postharvest design, construction, and purchase decisions in the interest of 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. Prior to this project, scale and region appropriate educational resources were lacking on this topic so educational programs and technical assistance tended to be ad hoc and inefficient. This project consolidated existing knowledge, best practices and new developments about postharvest equipment, infrastructure, and buildings into print publications, web-based resources, educational materials, and recorded videos. Seventeen (17) farms were directly engaged in this project in support of their own on-farm postharvest projects demonstrating adoption of new practices with 5 being highlighted as case studies in support of further education among their peers. Web-based educational products have reached a further 189,592 contacts (through 1/31/2023) resulting in 2,899 contact hours. The measurable adoption of change or change in behavior among this second group is more diffuse and hard to capture, but feedback over email and social media illustrate significant appreciation of the outputs and points to its influence on decisions being made by the viewers.
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.
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 consolidated existing knowledge, best practices and new developments about postharvest equipment, infrastructure, and buildings into print publications, web-based resources, educational materials, and recorded videos.
Project work included:
- research into equipment and construction practices that are not common in the region and also
- documentation of current best practices through case studies highlighting specific farms.
This has benefited growers by:
- reducing the amount of individual grower research required to make postharvest decisions (i.e. reduced overhead),
- enabling practices that will improve labor efficiency (i.e. reduced labor expense),
- supporting increased capacity (i.e. increase sales)
- mitigating risk associated with produce safety factors (i.e. enhance sustainability.)
The educational plan comprised five main curricular categories with specific concepts informed by earlier stakeholder engagement.
- GUIDING PRINCIPLES – Location, Flow of Product, Flow of People, Lean Farming Principles, Ergonomics, Produce Safety, Sanitary/Hygienic Design, Capital Planning, Return on Investment
- BUILDING AND INFRASTRUCTURE – Floors and Foundations, Drains, Doors, Wall Constructions, Cleanable Materials, Cooler Options, Utilities
- 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
- OPERATIONS – Loading, Unloading, Packing, Cleaning and Sanitizing, Standard Operating Procedures, Recordkeeping
- 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 varied (conference sessions, workshops, webinars and direct technical assistance by phone, email and social media) to enhance farmer access and engagement and as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 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 included (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, and (9) leveraging web and video based educational output platforms to reach the target audience despite the impact of COVID-19 on in-person events.
OUTPUTS – Educational outputs included:
- 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 is also be available on the web, as a download, and augmented with additional photos and video.
- Webinars provided 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 demonstrated project findings and improve learning through active participation.
- Direct, virtual technical assistance provided to growers embarking on postharvest projects. These meetings provided a chance to understand the specific challenges facing the farm, articulate their goals and plans, share lessons learned from other farms, and to directly connect the farm with educational resources that influenced their decision making.
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.
Through the workshop outputs noted in Milestone #2, 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 has been developed under this project by the end date of this milestone.
2. 200 growers reached through a book, online resources, workshops and webinars, and 50 report improved practice.
Workshops and distributed publications, videos and other resources reached 729 growers (1,174 contact hours) from 8 northeast states in the period ending 3/31/20.
3. 100 growers reached via webinar, and 150 will be reached with direct technical assistance.
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 developed a recorded version of the Postharvest Planning workshop geared to just-in-time learning for those who can't make an in-person offering. This was completed on 6/5/2020 and it gained a total of 490 views with 57 hours of viewing time by the end of 2020. There is no way to know who is watching the recordings (farmers vs. agricultural service providers.)
4. 30 growers evaluated for learning and verification of practice adoption.
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].
5. 200 additional growers are reached through a book, online resources, workshops and webinars, with an additional 25 with improved practice.
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.
6. 150 additional growers reflect and share their postharvest successes and challenges, with at least 20 of these with active engagement.
Growers and service providers have been critical informants for the development of topic-specific educational and information products as well as project specific case studies. These engagements have taken increasingly varied forms and come to us on a variety of channels.
7. 150 additional growers reached via webinar, 100 additional reached with direct technical assistance.
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)
8. 40 additional growers evaluated for learning and verification of practice adoption.
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. Even with restrictions being reduced, we continued to use informal evaluation, interviews and documentation to demonstrate behavior change and adoption of practice among our participating farms.
A total of 68 farms benefited from direct technical assistance leading to change in behavior or adoption of practice related to post harvest areas on the farm. This was accomplished through web meetings in which each farm oriented the team to their operation and an initial discussion of farm level flow as started. These conversations then followed the planning guide developed and reported in Milestone 3 with a farmer-led discussion based on their needs and goals. The educational team would explore concepts further when needed and would connect the farm with other technical resources including case studies developed based on other farm experiences.
Additionally, social media engagement points to strong interest in and use of resources developed under the project. We have used social media as a means of distributing project outputs and also as a way of connecting with participants and users of information that is lower burden for many. Some comments received on social media point to immediate impact as follows.
"Love seeing this kind of content! Tried and failed to get a sensible station like this set up in one of our fields, and just didn’t have the time necessary to figure it all out at that time of the season. Projects like this can be a huge help and save us a ton of time, not to mention make it easier sticking to hygienic practices. Thanks!" - YouTube viewer.
"Thanks for all your technical work! Last winter i converted a washing machine to a greens dryer and the uvm info available on the process was very helpful." - VT Grower over email.
"In short, your [resources] are so easy to [navigate] and helpful."
"We must have watched it 100 times, figuring out what would work best and what we could use and afford.” GA grower re: bins
"Hey UVM team,
Yesterday I was able to give a short cleaning and sanitizing workshop as part of a Georgia Organics program that is for Augusta, GA, area farmers.
They used to funds to purchases harvest bins and totes and we spent a bunch of time using the “Bins, Buckets, Baskets & Totes” and Bins Blitz resources to help decide what bins to purchase.
We also printed out and shared the “Guide to Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting for Produce Farms”, showcased some tools from the “Cleaning Tools & Supplies for Produce Farms” blog post, and handed out sanitizer pumps and spigots that we learned about from the “Safely Dispensing Sanitizers” resource.
So, wanted to say thanks! I know GA is pretty far away from VT but your work is having a big influence down here. Someday, fingers crossed, we’ll get a couple (or all) of you down here to lead one of these workshops yourselves!
A couple of photos attached." - GA service provider / educator
"Thanks for all the work you do. Your blog has been an important resource for me."
"You have showcased a nice variety of washing tools. It really helps farmers in selecting best product for their application. We too own the "Dailed In Cadillac Barrel Washer" manufactured by Dick de Graff of Grindstone Farm in Pulaski, NY. He has been making and distributing both fully built washers and kits for over 30 years. Ours has held up for decades and really gets the job done. Our experience was that It paid for itself the first season (now they are around $3500). Robert Haddad of Cornell ran tests using Grindstone's washer shown in your webinar and results showed that with cleaning after each use there were no contaminants associated with the barrel's wood construction -- a big bonus! Thanks for putting this together." - Grower via YouTube
"We are doing this right now, where did you mount the timer switch" - Grower re: greens spinner build.
"I can't thank you guys enough for the speed queen conversion instructions. So simple and such an improvement on our old washer conversion. 🎉😁👍" - Grower re: washing machine conversion.
9. 100 additional growers reflect and share their postharvest successes and challenges, with at least 20 of these with active engagement.
Overlap with MS#8. A total of 68 growers were actively engaged in technical assistance and direct educational support as they worked on projects on their farm. Some of these resulted in the case studies reported above which helped other growers.
10. 100 additional growers are reached through a book, online resources, workshops and webinars, with an additional 25 with improved practice.
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, for the entire project reporting period through 1/31/23 we have achieved 189,592 contacts with educational products resulting in 2,899 contact hours:
Web Based Outputs (183,429 views, 2,297 contact hours):
- Easy, Breezy, Three Season Packshed at Stout Oak Farm. Blog Post and Video Case Study. December 9, 2022. 319 views.
- New Metal Building from Scratch at Hall Brook Farm. Blog Post, 360 Degree Tour, and Video Case Study. December 7, 2022. 429 views.
- The Next Chapter: Renovating a Barn to Sustain Indian Line Farm. Blog Post and Video Case Study. August 22, 2022. 241 views.
- Detergents for Farm Food Contact Surfaces. Blog Post. June 26, 2022. 651 views.
- “Dry Cleaning” on Produce Farms: Alternatives to Water and Detergents. Blog Post. June 22, 2022. 724
- Farmer’s Favorites: Cleaning Tools. Blog Post. June 10, 2022. 592 views.
- Patient Pursuit of Packshed Happiness at Ananda Gardens. Blog Post. February 25, 2022. 1,117 views.
- Portable Handsfree Handwashing Station. Video. January 26, 2022.
- Preventing Freezing in Produce Coolers. Blog Post. January 25, 2022. 243 views.
- Root Washing Systems for Produce Farms. Blog Post. December 16, 2021. 3,004 views.
- Warm Rooms for Storage Crops & Freeze Protection for Coolers. Blog Post. November 29, 2021. 567 views.
- Building a Better Greens Bubbler. Blog Post, Fact Sheet and Video. October 6, 2021. 6,390 views.
- Farm Cooler Checklist. Blog Post and Fact Sheet. September 21, 2021 revision of April 17, 2017 publication. 1,182 views.
- Cleaning Tools for Produce Farms. Blog post, YouTube Video Series and Guidesheet. August 26, 2021. 2,654 views.
- Repairing Cracks and Pits in Concrete Floors. Blog post, Guidesheet and YouTube Video Series. August 4, 2021. 2,636 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. 996 views.
- AZS Rinse Conveyor User’s Guide. Guide Sheet. February 22, 2021. 1,218 views.
- Sanitary Design of Packing Houses: An Introduction to Hygienic Design for Produce Farms. Blog Post – 4,336 views. Video playlist recorded from workshop curriculum. 7 videos, 50 minutes. There have been a total of 365 individual video views with a total of 45 hours of viewing.
- Safely Dispensing Sanitizers. Blog Post. February 15, 2022 revision of December 15, 2020 publication. 1,109 views.
- Shedding Some Light in the Shed - Lighting for Indoor Work on the Farm. Blog Post. November 23, 2020. 1,913 views
- Giving a Dairy Barn New Life at New Leaf Organics. Blog Post, Fact Sheet and Video Case Study. September 30, 2020. 619 views
- Washing Machine Greens Spinners: Cleaning Tips. Blog Post. July 6, 2020. 624 new views
- Spray Tables for Produce Farms. Blog Post. June 2, 2020. 3,493 new views
- Improving Handwashing Stations. Blog Post and Fact Sheet. June 9, 2020. 5,533 views
- Drains for Produce Farms. Blog Post and Fact Sheet. April 23, 2020. 3,131 views
- A Guide to Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting for Produce Farms. With review and input from team members of the Produce Safety Alliance (Cornell University), H. Estrin (UVM Extension), L. McKeag (UMass Extension), P. Tocco (Michigan State University), A. Hultberg (University of Minnesota). Blog Post and Factsheet. March 30, 2020. Revised April 16, 2020. 7,809 views.
- Greens Spinners for Farm Use. Blog Post and Fact Sheet. Updated April 16, 2020. 25,779 views
- Risks Posed by Cats on Produce Farms. Fact Sheet. Michigan State University and UVM Extension. March 14, 2020. 346 views.
Integrated Postharvest Products (6,164 contacts, 602 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 - Planning an Efficient and Safe Wash/Pack Area. Blog Post. February 18, 2022 revision of February 9, 2020 publication..- 4,760 views, 83 contact hours
- Videos – YouTube Playlist - There have been a total of 1404 individual video views with a total of 519 hours of viewing.
- Introduction (Session 1), 64 new views, 289 total views, 40 total hours view time
- Postharvest & Produce Safety (Session 2), 40 new views, 192 total views, 35 total hours view time
- Flow & Lean (Session 3), 52 new views, 203 total views, 107 total hours view time
- Virtual Tour of Farms (Session 4), 36 new views, 173 total views, 62 total hours view time
- Buildings & Infrastructure (Session 5), 43 new views, 222 total views, 105 total hours view time
- Equipment (Session 6), 32 new views, 141 total views, 61 total hours view time
- Tools (Session 7), 32 new views, 121 total views, 79 total hours view time
- Executing your Plan (Session 8), 20 new views, 63 total views, 29 total hours view time
11. 50 additional growers reached via webinar, 50 additional reached with direct technical assistance.
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).
12. 30 additional growers evaluated for learning and verification of practice adoption.
Overlap with milestone 8 & 9 due to actual implementation of project and impact of COVID on that implementation. Evaluation was informal and based on voluntary statements among many and case study capture among relatively few as reported above.
Milestone Activities and Participation Summary
Overall project planning.
Cleaning and Sanitizing.
Standard Operating Procedures
Construction project planning and approaches - working with contractors.
Performance Target Outcomes
Varied improvements in post harvest handling and storage of produce.
270 acres (5 acre production average)
$540,000 cost savings through labor efficiency improvement and reduced waste.
Varied improvements in post harvest handling and storage of produce.
$140,000 (estimated, not verified).
The number of farms identified as planning a change or adoption of practice is based on the number of interactions with farms actively engaged in project planning and/or construction during this project. As with most farm and construction projects, schedules slip and plans change. But, by establishing a working relationship early in the farm project, we benefited from being re-engaged by the farm as their project progressed. This led to updates, photos, more questions, clarifications and, sometimes, additional meetings for direct technical assistance. In this way, we were able to assess project progress and adoption of practice or changed behavior. The use of social media connections also enabled receipt of project status updates indirectly based on posts and photos by the farm about the project. Sometimes, our work together was referenced which helped to both verify the work was being done and that our work together was influential on it.
Overall, we did not achieve the performance target in a way that was directly verifiable. Some of this was due to the limitations imposed by a global pandemic. This impacted our ability to be physically present with growers while they were working on their projects. The pandemic's impact on supply chain was felt quite sharply in construction materials which also led to delays in construction project implementation.
Additional Project 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)
Two related project proposals have been developed and submitted for grant funding. One is related to Aquaponics and Hydroponics and was awarded under USDA NIFA's Food Safety Outreach Program in the amount of $400,000.
- Last Resort Farm not Stalled by Dairy Barn Conversion for Produce (Fact Sheet)
- Giving a Dairy Barn New Life at New Leaf Organics (Fact Sheet)
- Sharpening the Edges: Wash/Pack Efficiencies in a New Farm Building at Small Axe Farm (Fact Sheet)
- Patient Pursuit of Packshed Happiness at Ananda Gardens (Fact Sheet)
- The Next Chapter: Renovating a Barn to Sustain Indian Line Farm (Fact Sheet)
- Project Planning for Postharvest Efficiency, Profitability, and Food Safety Videos (Webinar)