What equipment is best to streamline the washing process in a small-scale produce operation?
Answer: Small farms can save time and labor by utilizing mechanical washers for produce. The best type of mechanical washer depends on the type(s) of crops that will be washed. Small farms commonly equip their wash stations with wet-brush pack lines due to the number of various crops these units can handle, including cucumbers, winter squash, pie pumpkins, ornamental gourds, apples, peaches, peppers, melons, and root crops.Barrel washers are ideal for many root crops such as potatoes, parsnips, carrots, beets, rutabagas, celeriac, and sunchokes. However, unlike the wet-brush washer, barrel washers are not ideal for root crops that can bruise more easily, such as turnips and winter radishes.Barrel washers are made in various sizes and can be constructed from different materials. Despite these differences, they are all designed so that as a barrel (usually motor-driven) rotates, roots are rolled through either a water spray or a water bath. Some units have a final rise sprayer located at the outlet of the barrel.Wet-brush washers and barrel washers can both be included in a more efficient packing line that can include an in-feed belt, an absorber section, a packing table, and sizers for sorting crops that are round in shape. The book Wholesale Success contains more information on each of these separate components, as well as information wet-brush washers, barrel washers, and other crop-cleaning units.Barrel washers and wet-brush washers are available for purchase. In addition, plans are available for do-it-yourself construction of barrel washers. For more information on on-farm construction and considerations for improvement, visit the forum at http://farmhack.net/forums/root-washer-improvement. This forum is located on the FarmHack website, an open-source site for sharing farm and equipment information. This site also includes plans for a low-cost pedal power root washer at http://farmhack.net/tools/low-cost-pedalpower-rootwasher.For additional information, consult the following resources:Slama, Jim and Atina Duffy (editors). 2013. Wholesale Success: A Farmer’s Guide to Food Safety, Selling, Postharvest Handling, and Packing Produce. FamilyFarmed.org. Available at: www.familyfarmed.org.Grubinger, Vernon. 1999. Sustainable Vegetable Production from Start-Up to Market. Natural Resource, Agriculture, and Engineering Service (NRAES).Growing for Market, a publication for market farmerswww.growingformarket.com