[Market-farming] Walk-in Coolers

Mountain Harvest Organics farmer at mountainharvestorganic.com
Fri Oct 31 20:15:50 EST 2003

We have a 9X11 walk-in cooler.  We constructed our cooler, in our barn so that it is out of the sun, with used commercial cooler panels.  We bartered for our panels which made them essentially “free” and we have seen many ads for used panels that were very affordable.  We considered commercial refrigeration but considered it too costly after receiving estimates anywhere from $2,500 to $3,000 for a compressor, materials and labor.  We decided instead to purchase a used large 24,000 BTU window room air-conditioner (cost $200) and replace the thermostat (cost $100) with one that allows the temperature to be set lower that the coolest setting on a normal room air conditioner.  We have found that 45 degrees is the minimum temperature we can set the thermostat before the cooling coils freeze up and the unit quits working.   ATTRA has a publication on using a heat strip to defrost the cooling coils so that you set the thermostat at a lower temperature.  Our thermostat is designed with a defrost cycle that can activate the heat strip but at present, we have chosen not to make this modification.

Our requirement is for two storage environments; one being a 35 degree range for lettuce and greens such as broccoli and kale and a second being a 45 – 50 degree cooling for warm season crops such as summer squash, peppers, tomatoes and basil.  Our solution was to purchase a used commercial ice machine and directly ice those crops that can be iced such as broccoli and kale and keep the cooler at 45 degrees for the warm season crops.  The only disadvantage to this solution has been with lettuce and salad mix which we have been putting a layer of cardboard between the harvested crop and the ice.  The ice machine has been the best return on investment of any purchase we have made, paying for itself in less than one season.  We are in a very remote area and consistent sources of ice are not available.  To assure a supply we felt that having our own machine was critical.  Our used ice machine was $700 and can produce roughly 800 pounds per day which was an easy justification when considering the average weekly cost of bagged ice being at least $50.

Our conclusion is that our setup is not a good solution for storing lettuce, salad mixes and other cool storage crops that cannot be iced directly.  We are still not ready to invest in commercial refrigeration and the dependency on expensive professional labor.  As someone else has mentioned there are available pre-charged units and that is an option worth considering.  We also have considered trying to find a large “reach-in” cooler to hold those few crops that need the 35 degree storage and can’t be directly iced.

Carl Evans and Julie Mansfield
Mountain Harvest Organics
Western North Carolina, USA

More information about the Market-farming mailing list