Developing Harvest Task Checklists to Assist Farmers in Managing Harvest Crews

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2008: $4,108.79
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Claire Strader
Troy Community Farm

Annual Reports


  • Vegetables: beets, cucurbits, greens (leafy), greens (lettuces), leeks, onions, radishes (culinary)
  • Additional Plants: herbs


  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: community-supported agriculture
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture

    Proposal summary:

    Even after crews have been trained on specific harvest tasks, it is common for workers to forget or skip essential steps, resulting in substandard products and wasted time. This project will develop, test, and evaluate checklists that name all the steps on specific harvest tasks and serve as in-the-moment guides for the harvest crew. One of the most significant challenges on my farm is training and managing a large and diverse workforce of interns, volunteers, and youth. Given our urban location, many people of all ages and abilities have easy access to the farm and are attracted to it as a place to learn about food and food production. From the beginning we have prioritized education as part of what we do. However, the farm and its workforce must be efficient and productive in order to make ends meet. I have found that even with training and clear instruction, it is difficult to insure that harvest tasks in particular are done efficiently and produce a consistent product. Because we want to provide an educational and interesting experience for our workers, not everyone does the same tasks week after week and workers can easily forget important details of the jobs. This project will develop a tool to assist farmers in reinforcing training and instruction on specific harvest tasks so that farm workers can work more independently and produce a more consistent finished harvest product. The tool is a simple checklist. I got the idea when I read an article by Atul Gawande in the December 10th 2007 edition of The New Yorker. The article was titled “The Checklist,” and subtitled, “if something so simple can transform intensive care, what else can it do?” The author described how when doctors and nurses in the intensive care used a simple checklist when inserting lines for catheters or IV fluids, they dramatically lowered the incidence of infections. While the medical professionals had already been trained to wash their hands, clean the patient’s skin, etc., using the checklist reminded them that each step was essential and needed to be performed without fail. In both my own experiences as a farmer and my discussions with other farmers, I have encountered frustration with farm workers who make simple errors even after they have been trained on a job. These errors can reduce both efficiency and the quality of the finished product. Further, farmers who spend a great deal of time reminding their workers how to do jobs are not harvesting or cultivating or otherwise doing productive work themselves. If something so simple as a checklist can transform intensive care, can it help farmers and farm workers avoid simple and costly errors? I would like to find out. On small-scale organic vegetable farms like mine, harvesting is one of the most time-consuming things that we do. It is also one of the most complicated. Through this project, we will develop harvesting checklists to assist farmers in instructing their workers on the procedures and quality standards for 10 crops. After sufficient training on the steps, we expect that workers will be able to take the list to the field and use it to produce quality work independent of further reminders and instructions from the farmer. Of course, farms will differ on their procedures for specific crops. After developing checklists for our 10 most complicated harvest jobs and testing them with our workers, we will simplify the checklist to a more generic list of steps that a farmer could customize to his or her specific tools and standards. Tricia Bross at nearby Luna Circle Farm will work with us to customize the checklists to her similar operation and test them with her workers. Her feedback will then guide final refinements to the checklists.

    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.