Editor’s note: As part of Ecotrust’s efforts to strengthen mid-sized agriculture and the infrastructure that supports it, Amanda Oborne criss-crossed Oregon with team of trainers last month. Here is what she saw.
“If I could buy you each one gift, it would be a pressure washer,” says professional trainer and long-time farmer, Atina Diffley. Diffley is explaining to the small and midsize mixed vegetable growers who have come to the Wholesale Success workshop why an investment in a few key pieces of equipment, and the creation of a few standard operating procedures, could radically improve the quality and safety of food coming off their farm, leading to increased sales and better profitability.
“Don’t you hate scrubbing those harvest bins by hand, knocking your knuckles and having your hands in cold water for a long time? Makes you not really want to do that job, right? Having a pressure washer lets your pickers clean those things in a few seconds and makes it a lot more likely that the job gets done and done well.”
It was the type of practical advice that came rolling off Diffley’s tongue all day.
“Pick it cool, keep it cool, put it to sleep.” Getting field heat out of produce as quickly as possible can extend shelf life for days, so picking in the early morning before it heats up saves time and money in cooling.
“Fresh produce should be seen and not heard.” If produce is audibly hitting the box or bin as it’s being packed, the crew is not being gentle enough and the product will probably have bruises. Because those bruises often don’t show up for a day or two, farmers may think they’re delivering pristine produce, but buyers may unpack boxes of bruised tomatoes.
“If you didn’t write it down, you didn’t do it.” It’s the rule of food safety regulation compliance—if you didn’t write it down, you didn’t do it. Diffley coached growers to treat record-keeping like brushing their teeth: make it quick and easy and part of shutting down for the day. A great tip was to create a permanent grid on a white board and then fill in daily details with a dry-erase marker. At the end of the day, just snap a picture of the board with a digital camera or smart phone and save the picture in a dated file. Record-keeping done!
Wholesale Success is a program developed by FamilyFarmed.org with support from the USDA, and brought to four Oregon locations in January by FoodHub, in partnership with local community-based food organizations and a host of collaborators. Heaps of thanks go out to workshop hosts Gorge Grown Food Network, Nourish Yamhill Valley, Ten Rivers Food Web, Thrive and OSU Extension Small Farms, and to statewide partners Friends of Family Farmers, Oregon Food Bank, and OSU Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems.
If you’re a produce farmer and missed the workshops, you can request the course manual by contacting one of the workshop hosts above, or by picking one up from FoodHub’s home office in Portland. Just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also access many of the course materials online by visiting Diffley’s website,www.atinadiffley.com.