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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Refrigeration and the Eco-Farm

The farm store open for business on a rainy day in May

One of the cool things about this farm (and there many) is it had a store building already built when we got here. The store is a work in progress for us. We started with a 20' x 40' open space and Eugene built a wall so we have a retail space and a work space. After that was done the building was rewired as we found when we plugged in the vacuum cleaner the lights would get very bright . A bad thing, especially if you are intending to plug in the big fridge (or two) and run it 24/7/365. So, last spring we got help from our buddy Wyatt and got the electrical system working a lot better (and likely up to code, which it most certainly was not). So the big fridge that had been living in the barn the first 9 months we were here could now live and run in the store. This year was the year of the eBay fridges. As regular readers know, we bought two glass front fridges on eBay for $500 and had an adventure hauling them back home. Found out in late April one works and one does not and it would take about $2000 to fix the non working one (we can get an almost new one for under $2 grand so not worth dealing with). But one does work and we have it in the store keeping the produce cold and fresh. The fridge has made life a lot easier on many levels and when it breaks down we will buy a new one because I can see we cannot function well without such technology.

The one running glass front fridge full of good things to eat

To any budding eco-farmers, investing in refrigeration will pay off well in the not so long run. The quality and longevity of your produce will increase dramatically (our lettuce will last 3 to 4 weeks if it has been properly chilled ASAP after harvest. If it has not been properly cooled it will last a week at best). We have had storage refrigeration for the past 10 year and having such meant we did not have to harvest everything within 20 hours of a market which can kill a person. I really hated those 20 hour days followed by a 14 hour day that we had to pull to get ready for the Saturday morning market. And it was made worse because the quality of our produce degraded quickly, especially in hot weather. That meant we were composting, often half of what we harvested. It gets depressing to toss out half of your hard work just about every week. Refrigeration stopped that, cut our work hours and upped the quality of everything that needs to be cold.

Locavores, when you see wilted food at the farmers market what you are generally seeing is a farm that is not using refrigeration and also a farmer who has not yet learned good post harvest practises. It takes a while to learn everything there is know about growing food for market. Most new growers get better and better each year and as they get better improve their operations as they can afford to. But some farmers believe they do not need refrigeration and that is their choice. They just don't know how much refrigeration would improve their farm, life and produce quality.

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