[Market-farming] Cooling and storing produce

Home Grown Kansas! hgkansas at sbcglobal.net
Sun Jan 14 15:38:43 EST 2007

I am writing from Kansas where we are enjoying a relaxing day in the house due to cold temperatures and ice rain which we have had all day.  We have grown on our urban farm for 15 years.  We grow a variety of greens in the spring and fall.  We grow culinary herbs and vegetables as well and sell to upscale Wichita restaurants and at two farmers markets - a Saturday morning one and a midweek market.  As every farm is different, I imagine each of us has a different way of harvesting and storing our produce.   We have a small outbuilding (approx 10X12) in which we installed a window air conditioning unit which we rewired to be a cooling unit.  We can keep the "cold shed" at about 42 - 55 degrees depending on the outdoor temperature.  This is a cost effective cooling source - much less than the traditional compressor used for a walk in cooler.  I usually harvest 20 - 30 pounds of lettuce  a day - harvesting it first thing in the morning while it is cool.  I then wash it and spin
 it dry (manually) and then bag it in vented plastic bags.  The vented bags allow for any excess moisture to escape so as not to result in soggy greens.  I then keep it in the cold shed until delivery.  I can keep it for maybe 3 days if neccessary but try not to store for very long.  
  Since okra is most prolific in the hot summer months and the temperature in the cold shed can't be maintained at a cool enough temperature, I find that my shelf life for the okra in my system is not more than a couple of days.  When storing summer squash, after washing it I put it in cubed crates (much like what galloned milk is delivered in to stores) and then place a plastic bag over the crates before putting in the cool shed.  These crates stack great and I can get a great deal of produce in the shed.  The plastic bags and the moisture on the squash result in beautifully stored produce.  To the grower who is trying to hold things over a week I would suggest looking for some other outlets for sales.  As I said earlier, we go to a Wed and Sat Market.  We harvest for Saturday market on Thurs and Friday.  What we don't sell at market, I bring home and store in cooler until Monday.  I then harvest for restaurants/health food stores on Monday and can still include most of
 the Sat market leftovers in those orders.  I try to clean my cold shed out on Mondays.  What isn't sold is donated to the food bank.  This way they get good produce and I don't make the mistake of offering not so fresh produce to my customers.  Then, on Tuesday & Wed I harvest for the Wed afternoon market.  What is not sold comes to the cold shed.  I harvest Thursdays for restaurant orders and can include the Wed market leftovers in that.  Should it not be sold, it stores well until Saturday market and is sold there (be sure to sell it first so that if you bring home produce from Saturday market you are bringing home what will hold over until Mon).  I rest on Sunday and start all over again Monday.  
  Our cold shed has saved us so much money in lost produce that I would suggest that anyone growing more than they can sell the day of harvest should invest in some type of cooling unit.  Years ago I tried using large ice chests and they were a headache and not at all successful, not to mention hard to keep clean.  
  We've been enjoying this market farming list.  Hope you can glean something from this contribution to use in your food growing endeavors.  Pat
Adriana <adriana at chefsgreens.com> wrote: ansas.com > This brings up some concerns about everything being wet for a week or 
> more.
> And, how can I cool that much water every day?
> Sure hope some of you have dealt with these issues and have some great
> suggestions/solutions!
Early on I came across research that indicated that cooling down lettuces 
and greens within half an hour of harvesting was the single most important 
contributor to shelf life and I believe it based on 8 years of growing 

Passive cooling is not the best way to cool produce since it can take hours 
for large quantities to cool down. If you can, rig up a forced air cooling 
tunnel within your cooler. The way I did this was to designate a shelf on a 
rack as the cooling tunnel. The shelf was solid on the back, top and 
bottom and I had a plastic drop curtain for the front. I had a box fan on 
one end pulling air through the "tunnel" Seal any gaps between the edge of 
the fan and the sides, top and bottom. I would pick produce (in my case 
basil and salad greens) into large laundry baskets which fit snugly into the 
tunnel. When you put the baskets into the tunnel and turned the fan on I 
found that the contents would be cooled down in 10 or 15 minutes. It works 
best if the baskets are fairly full and they fit snugly in the tunnel as 
this forces the air to be pulled through the vents in the baskets and then 
through the leaves.

I used an indoor-outdoor thermometer with a probe that I could insert into 
the middle of the basket to determine if it had cooled down sufficiently to 
remove it from the tunnel. Some leafy greens can get dehydrated if you 
leave them in too long - they might benefit from a mild misting on the top 
surface to prevent this problem.


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