Innovative Field to Market Processes for Small Produce Farms
As stated in the application, we want to design a washing system to reduce the labor requirements needed to harvest, prep, pack and transport multiple kinds of fresh produce for the small farmer. To do this, the process will be based on crates to be used to harvest, wash, dry, cool, and transport items, reducing handling and redundancies. This season, I began the process of validating the core idea of our research proposal — the crate and its ability to be used for numerous parts of the process.
Having included only the cost of the new crates that I wanted to trial in this process, I decided to first do some investigation of a couple types and sizes of crates before committing the funds to one crate type. To do this, I located used crates of various sizes and types at zero cost so I can be sure of the crate type needed before ordering new ones in quantity.
Our trials consisted of harvesting different crops into the different types of crates and hand dipping or plunging the crates into a water bath to simulate the washer design. The trials were a success. We were able to notice differences in the way water would pass through crates having large holes as compared to ones with smaller holes. However hole size cannot be selected by water passage only. The needs and size of the produce being washed in the crate has to be assessed also.
Summary of grant funds used: Grant funds were used to purchase scales and the transport cart as budgeted, as well as hardware and electrical items needed to start construction of the washer and drier (also budgeted items). Funds were used to pay for time spent on trialing crate types and crate-based harvesting methods. Time was also spent doing washing trials with various crates and produce. We believe, based on these trials, that several vegetables will be able to be processed using our crate-based system. Those vegetables include beans, cucumbers, squash, potatoes, beets, radishes, cabbages, carrots, peas, kohlrabi, peppers, and turnips. With further trials next season, we hope to add tomatoes and lettuce as well.
As part of our outreach, we used funds to pay for time spent on collecting photos and creating a slide show presentation of our grant project which we made accessible from our website. I presented those slides at the Farmers Forum at the National Small Farm Trade Show & Conference in Columbia, Missouri last November (2006).
To date we have spent less than 50% of funding received. This winter we will be purchasing more materials needed in building the washer and drier as well as ordering crates to be used in next season’s trials.
a. Crate selection is a key element in the process.
b. Our original idea of using one crate for picking, transporting, washing, and spin drying is a great time saver for several kinds of vegetables.
c. Using a dedicated transport cart that maximizes the number of crates that can be moved from field to packing area adds to our efficiency.
d. Some crops may need to be sorted more in the field at harvest time than what we were doing prior to the use of this crate-based system. In the past, some items were picked and transported to a wash and sort area but that method is not possible with this new process.
e. This spring was extremely wet and when we used our crate-based system on muddy potatoes we could cut our wash time by nearly 90%.
f. The process will reduce handling but something we did not consider was that it may also reduce the opportunity to check for things like splits. This is an area we will be looking at more closely next season as we continue to research the process and make adjustments as we go.
g. The wash process will handle ten crates of ten different crops nearly as easily as handling ten crates of one single crop. This is important for farms like ours that pick on a daily basis handling multiple items and needing to reduce the time used to switch between crops.
WORK PLAN FOR 2007
a. Complete construction of the washer and drier by May.
b. Start refining the process for each crop type.
c. Make adjustments to the washer and drier as needed.
d. Record labor times for various crop types.
e. Trial different methods of harvesting into the crates looking for the most compatible and effective methods.
f. Trial transporting crops to market and selling from the crates to see if we can reduce yet more time at that end of the process. We are currently thinking of some type of “skirt” or “cover” that can be put on the crate to make it attractive and adaptable to our market displays.
g. Update the web presentation as the season progresses so others can see how the project is developing.
h. Prepare for a late summer or early fall field/demonstration day so other farmers can see the washer, drier, and processes in action.
i. Complete the final report as required.
a. I presented my ideas at a sustainable agriculture conference in my state (Indiana) and as part of the presentation, I asked for input from those attending and received some good input and suggestions. There were about 60 farmers that sat in on the presentation.
b. I presented at the Farmers Forum at the 2006 National Small Farm Trade Show & Conference for Joan Benjamin of NCR-SARE. There were about 50 farmers in attendance. I presented information on our project as well as information on how we applied for the grant.
c. I presented information on our farm to an Entrepreneurship Institute at Purdue University and touched on our SARE grant participation and project. There were about 30 students and 15 teachers attending.
d. We will continue to update our website with additional project information. We have several hundred visitors to our site each month.
e. We will host an on-farm field/demo day in 2007. We plan on advertising this outreach activity thru the local university, local sustainable agriculture groups, our website, and by distributing fliers to farmers at local farmers markets.