By Lauren McDonald, Crew Manager
Harvesting is the favorite task of many people on the farm- members, volunteers, and staff alike. It’s somewhat thrilling to experience that last step of the vegetable moving from the ground to the kitchen and getting to share the tremendous, delicious bounty of the fields. Right now, the cucumbers and zucchini are going strong along with lots of greens, and within the next few weeks we’re looking forward to harvesting eggplant, tomatoes, and watermelon. Many of you who have done work share hours on Tuesday or Friday mornings during the summer have experienced parts of the harvest process. Here’s an overview of how we determine what to harvest and how we make sure veggies stay fresh, clean, and cool on their way to distribution.
To get ready for each week, we do a field walk on Friday mornings and make a list of everything that’s ready to pick, checking that we have at least 10 items (not a problem once we get into August and September when we easily have 15-20). On harvest mornings, we decide how many bins to pick of each item, drop them at the bed where they’ll be used, and sharpen clippers and knives so that once work share members show up we can go straight out to the field.
Member help is an essential part of our harvest process. Many hands make light work, and we want to finish harvesting most crops, especially the sensitive greens, before the sun gets too strong. Also on Tuesdays, we have to wash and get everything set up at distribution by 3pm. Our appreciation for work share help is based on more than our timing needs- the opportunity to swap recipes and life stories while working together is a fundamental part of what makes a CSA truly “community supported agriculture”.
So, each Tuesday and Friday morning after we circle up for a quick ice-breaker question and some stretches, we divide and conquer, and clip, bunch, pull, or pick each veggie and bring full bins back to the shaded wash tent. If you’ve been down to the Coop building during the season, you’ve probably seen our wash station. We use two old bathtubs as dunk tanks for all the greens, then for arugula, spinach and lettuce mix we spin them in a washing machine (that’s not hooked up to water) to dry them out. For kohlrabi and bunches of radishes or scallions, we spread them out and spray them slatted tables. We run roots, cucumbers, and zucchini through a root washer system with rollers and brushes and a sorting table where we can remove anything questionable.
Sometimes people ask why we wash vegetables even if they’re not particularly dirty and we haven’t sprayed anything on them. For all crops, but especially for greens, it’s essential for us to immerse them in water as soon as possible after harvest in order to remove field heat from the vegetables. If we were to put warm bins straight into the cooler, most of the produce in each bin would stay at its pre-cooled temperature, causing the produce to deteriorate very quickly.
In our cooler (a shipping container with a Cool Bot converted air conditioner unit), we pay close attention to moisture levels. The vegetables are still respiring, so we cover all of the produce bins with cloth tarps that we spray down each afternoon to keep the moisture in the veggies. As we harvest, wash, and set up for distribution, we also constantly pay attention to the quality of produce, picking out anything that looks damaged or rotten so that we can supply all our members with the most consistent, delicious produce possible. Hope you’re enjoying the veggies, and thanks for all the harvest help!