Evaluation of Production Efficiencies and Market Season Extension Options for RainFresh Harvests Year-Round Production of Herbs and Specialty Vegetables
During the first year of this project, there were delays in spring plantings due to cold, wet spring weather. Subsequent harvests began later than usual for field plantings and skewed results. Additionally, irregular rainfall resulted in several periods requiring more irrigation than normal. I experienced some difficulty in locating a suitable intern(s) for assisting with the project. Summer interns needed full-time, rather than part-time employment with no continuity during the fall harvest season.
A scale for measuring harvests and stopwatch for record keeping were purchased and
Were instrumental in providing a better awareness of preconceived understanding of the amount of time expended for the various phases of production and harvesting.
Data collection was done for key crops, including labor for growing and harvesting, as well as production inputs.
Preliminary research was completed for marketable processed products, with some work done on actual processing of basil into pesto and dried leaf products. There was limited response to sale of these items and subsequent research regarding processing regulations for home kitchens in Ohio limited efforts for items requiring additional ingredients.
Key results from 2008 included:
-A better understanding of the actual times required for production, harvesting and processing of crops. This helped to better plan the crop mix for the 2009 season.
-Hand irrigation during dry summer periods took considerably more time than expected. The use of a stopwatch to quantify actual time spent on hand watering with a hose was convincing to disprove long held personal conceptions that it didn’t really take too much time to water crops. This led to conversion of almost all areas to drip irrigation in 2009.
-Processing of basil into pesto may not be economically feasible on a small scale due to labor and added ingredient costs, as well as concerns with state health department regulations for kitchen certification for processed products.
-Research into smoking of products raised concerns about the higher temperatures required and the potential for destruction of nutrient content during this process. It was determined that dried products or frozen products would offer the best options to pursue in 2009.
-Harvestable and saleable yields were influenced by insect damage, limited growth due to lack of water during dry periods. The importance of keeping crops actively growing and clean of insects or diseases was critical to maximize profitability. This should be able to be better documented as the data is analyzed and summarized.
Based on 2008 results:
-Focus on the most productive crops that provided highest yields and most income per square foot, based on production, harvesting and processing inputs.
-Complete a full year of accurate records for all project inputs.
-Focus on processing and marketing options primarily with drying and also with freezing surplus yields.
Information was shared about sustainable growing and renewable energy used for year-round production in greenhouses was shared. During 2008, several field day tours were offered to the general public and also for inquiring groups that were interested in sustainable greenhouse growing, including the following dates and numbers attending:
-May 7, 2008 – Spring Open House and Tours. Estimated 65 persons attended.
-Sep 25, 2008 – Tour for a group from the Cleveland Botanical Garden which sponsors a youth-employment urban agriculture program. They were beginning to talk with the school district and the County about building a green house and year-round learning center for their program. Tour group of 10 persons.
-Oct 4, 2008 – Fall Ohio Solar Tour in cooperation with the national tour sponsored by the American Solar Energy Society and the state tour organized by Green Energy Ohio. Estimated 80 persons attended this tour.
-Arrangements were made for a Jan 13, 2009 tour for The Ohio Parks and Recreation Association for 15, which were later cancelled due to weather related lack of registration for their winter conference.
-Several other requests during the year were deferred to the 2 main tour dates to be more efficient and allow networking between participants at those tours.
Additionally, information was shared from a previous SARE grant:
-March 24 – 26, 2008 – Attended National SARE conference and participated in the poster session.
-May 2, 2008 -- The poster from this previous SARE grant was used at an environmental fair at Upper Arlington High School. Two students from this school also participated in independent work experiences at RainFresh Harvests during 2008.
Plans for 2009 include a spring open house tour day in May and a fall Ohio Solar Tour day in October.