by Sanne Kure-Jensen
Sisters Hill Farm uses innovative washing equipment and storage systems designed by head farmer David Hambleton. His height-adjustable farm equipment accommodates his 6 ft. 7 in. build. With a quick adjustment, the pallet jacks, root washers or wash tables can be set for ergonomically-correct use by all his apprentices, including those closer to 5 ft. tall. Hambleton described his efficient washroom equipment, layout and practices at the New England Vegetable & Fruit Growers Conference.
The farm’s loading dock is deliberately the same height as their farm van’s tailgate. This allows the crew to roll hand trucks/pallet jacks on and off the truck with palletized produce boxes. Crew move and store produce in Buckhorn bins with attached lids stacked on plastic mini-pallets.
Root Bunch Washer
Hambleton’s bunch washer runs off a heavy duty 15 amp electric pressure washer. There are three water jets equally spaced around the sides of a 5-gallon pail. The pail is tipped and has drain holes at the bottom. The water is activated by a foot pedal.
Crews bunch beets, turnips, radishes, and other root crops in the fields. Hambleton’s root washer uses a third less water and half the time of traditional single-spray washers. Hambleton hired a local welder to put together the adjustable stand he designed. The pressure washer, stand, foot pedal controller and incidental parts cost less than $1,100.
Hambleton said that because of their length, his crew washes bunched carrots faster using only a pressure washer. One crewmember gently lays out carrots on an open table with a 1 in. x 1 in. metal mesh top. A second crewmember sprays them with the pressure washer, while the first turns the carrots for another go around with the pressure washer.
Hambleton designed the farm’s wash tables around a 50-gallon stock tank. A customized hydraulic lift table adjusts the stock tanks height. Pipes from the farm well fill a second tank overhead while crews wash produce in the stock tank. When the wash water needs changing, staff can quickly drain that bin and refill it from the upper bin, thanks to a large diameter hose and gravity. Hambleton designs these systems for other farmers with water lines coming in from above and hoses hanging down to fill the tank, spray bins and wash produce.
After washing and sanitizing, crews stack produce bins on mini pallets or bulk bins onto a digital scale recessed in the concrete slab outside the cooler door. Crewmembers make quick notes of the total weight. Simple adjustments account for the weight of the hand truck, plastic mini-pallet and produce bins.
The cooler at Sisters Hill Farm was sized for maneuverability, even at peak harvest time. Time and productivity would be lost if farm staff had to struggle moving around the cooler with hand trucks and bins. Produce bins are stacked four to six bins high on plastic mini-pallets.
The cooler is located north of and in the shade of the farm barn to minimize energy use. The white roof will reflect sunlight that reaches it when the sun is highest near the solstice.
Hambleton made magnetic labels with the names of all the produce the farm grows. He and the crew can quickly wheel a pallet of produce into the cooler and place the appropriate label on the wall behind the stack. For ideal cycling, new produce goes behind older material.
Hambleton said his pressure washer might be his favorite and most versatile piece of farm equipment. The crew washes and sanitizes their 150 produce bins weekly, drying them in the sun for ultraviolet sanitizing whenever possible.
David Hambleton, head farmer, joined Sisters Hill Farm in 1999. The Sisters of Charity hired Hambleton to develop a CSA on their farm. He has designed and built a variety of farm equipment including a greenhouse, walk-in cooler, root washer and harvest cart. Part of the Sisters’ mission is to train the next generation of farmers. Hambleton accomplishes this by training three apprentices each growing season.
The farm grows using organic methods but is not a certified organic farm. Hambleton and his crew grows more than 100 varieties of 50 vegetables selected for taste and nutrition.
The farm’s CSA has grown from 40 members fed by one acre in 1999, to 280 families fed by five acres. The farm crew harvests 80,000 pounds of produce each year.
Learn more about Sisters Hill a Farm at sistershillfarm.org, via email to email@example.com or call 845-868-7048. Visit the farm at 127 Sisters Hill Road, Stanfordville, NY 12581.
Efficient, ergonomic washing equipment and layout
by Sanne Kure-Jensen