An agricultural farm is a sector of land dedicated primarily to agricultural processes with the primary objective of producing food and other crops; it is the basic unit of food production. There are specialized units called arable fields, vegetable farms, fruit farms, and where the soil is used to produce natural fibers, biofuel, and other bulk goods. Among the names given to it are fields, ranches and plantations.
Agriculture developed independently in different parts of the world, as hunter-gatherer societies transitioned to food producers, rather than capturing their food. It is believed to have started about 12,000 years ago with the domestication of livestock in the Fertile Crescent in western Asia, soon followed by grain cultivation. Modern units specialize in crops that adapt to the soil and climate conditions of the region, the result of the harvest is marketed either on the market or for further processing.
When we finally started our own mixed vegetable operation in a 77-hectare field previously used for corn, there were no trees, much less a cold room. We do not think it would have a greater consequence.
After all, our purpose was to provide the freshest possible product to our CSA members. We woke up early enough to harvest everything we planned to distribute that same day.
What can be better than freshly picked vegetables, lettuce, tomatoes, and squash?
It wasn’t until our customers started complaining that our mezclum seemed to spoil in their coolers faster than the weekly California product; so we started to take a closer look at what we were doing.
We realized that our responsibility for high-quality vegetables does not end once our product leaves our farm. Many of our customers stored our product for several days (even weeks) after we thought they would be consumed.
We learned that how we handle produce before, during, and even minutes after harvest has a huge impact on its long-term quality. Deterioration happens for a number of reasons including temperature, water loss, physical damage, disease at the microorganism level and even the normal process of product maturation.
Now we take those factors into account from the very beginning. In most cases, it has made us improve our harvesting efficiency because we get the job done faster and the increased taste and shelf life of the product definitely makes the effort worthwhile.
Aside from generating a higher quality product that will last longer in our customers’ refrigerators, we can also harvest less frequently (which means that we can harvest more product with less work for our CSA distributions).
Our post-harvest care begins a few days before we harvest with a factor that we have some control over: water!
We make sure the soil has enough moisture before we harvest green vegetables and lettuce. All too often this means irrigation before harvest – but not just before harvest, because we don’t want to work with wet leaves. We do the same with the carrot – irrigating enough to minimize the effort required to pull the product out of the ground without having to exert as much force, reducing the physical effort on the product and on our backs.
For other vegetables such as tomatoes and melons, we take the opposite approach and reduce or stop irrigating as the harvest approaches to concentrate flavors. This brings with it several restrictions with certain variations of melons in which the harvest is done less frequently, but this is not the case with tomatoes. We grow our tomatoes in high-end open tunnels so that we have perfect control over how much water they absorb, allowing us to coordinate the harvest to ensure the greatest amount of flavor.
It is a surprisingly persistent myth that tomatoes ripen better on the vine than on the vine. In fact, on hot days, tomatoes don’t ripen as well or evenly attached to the vine as they do apart. If you don’t believe me, do a blind test with your clients! What really matters with the taste is how much water you have given your tomatoes a day or two before harvest. We reduce our irrigation cycles 50 hours before harvest and completely eliminate irrigation 36 hours before harvest – restarting irrigation immediately after harvest. If you’ve tested the difference between tomatoes harvested right after a storm, against a few days of not receiving water, then you already know what a difference this can make.
Although we grow a wide variety of specialty tomatoes, we have found that we can impressively concentrate the taste of our hybrid tomatoes to the point that our customers do not prefer specialty tomatoes over hybrids when presented with the choice.
Giving a complete 180 ° turn to our previous arrogant claim of “freshly harvested” vegetables, we have found that scheduling harvests based on climate and humidity (water) leads to better long-term quality of our products.
For example, I prefer to harvest lettuce about three days before it is ready in case there is a possibility of rain on our distribution day. The same with coriander and other delicate products. Some varieties of broccoli are especially susceptible to fungal contamination caused by rainwater deposits, so they can be harvested before the product is ready in case of a possibility of rain, if adequate storage conditions are in place.
The most important thing to remember is that the quality of the product will not improve once it is detached from the plant. Small indentations in tomatoes – or areas contaminated with Swiss chard, get worse every day. We dispose of poor quality products in the field instead of having to sort it after harvest where it can make a complete basket look bad.
We pack baskets loosely rather than overflow, even if this means more movement to and from the field during harvest, and we minimize stowage of one basket over another during transport if we see that one basket can collapse inside another damaging the product. If we find damaged produce on the farm after harvest, we separate it immediately, BEFORE introducing it into the cold room.
I harvest the pumpkin with cotton-jersey gloves, but my wife Kate has a beautiful and soft woman’s hands so she does it without gloves. We have seen what perforations and scratches can do to a summer or winter squash – and we remind ourselves that we are not harvesting for the quality of 2 days prior to distribution, but for the next 10 days that our customers can store our product in their refrigerators.
Vegetables are never thrown in baskets, and baskets are never thrown on the ground. If we have helpers, they are trained in the importance of gentle touch when handling the product.
Because we harvest our tomatoes as soon as they show signs of being ready (at first glance) the product is more resistant to damage even if they are packed to a higher level in the baskets. Still, we prefer that our hybrid tomatoes are not stowed in baskets in more than 3 layers, and specialty tomatoes are packaged in a single layer with nothing placed on top of them. We harvest them to the same basket in which they will be stored to avoid damage caused by handling.
The vegetables that we will be cooling with the use of a hose, we ensure that our baskets have holes that allow water to be drained from the baskets.
Post-Harvest Temperature Control
The table at the end of this article shows the optimal storage temperatures for a selection of vegetables. Even if you can’t reach the perfect temperatures, if you get anything out of reading this article, I hope you are aware of how critical it is to bring the product as close as possible to ideal temperatures as early as possible once they are separated from the plant. .
To use strawberries as an example, the ideal storage temperature is 32 ° F (0 ° C). If you store them at 65 ° F (18.3 ° C) then you reduce their shelf life by 70%. That sounds pretty bad, but the worst part is leaving them at 77 ° F (25 ° C) only for the duration of the harvest. If it delays refrigeration for only 4 hours after harvest and reduces the life of the product by almost half. Wait 6 to 8 hours and it returns to a 70% reduction regardless if you refrigerate it at 32 ° F (0 ° C) immediately after that time.
Also remember that the effects of temperature are additive. The greatest damage occurs immediately after harvest, as the crop is often even hotter than 77 ° F (25 ° C) because it has been receiving sunlight. But even after it has been refrigerated, they will heat up again at the farm counter, and then in their customers’ cars. All those sub-optimal conditions times accumulate to destroy the quality of your products, so it is very important that you control what you can control – especially during the first 30-60 minutes immediately after harvest!
In the case of especially sensitive crops such as strawberries, it is also a matter of marketing. We used to desperately search for clients for our strawberries every spring before they went bad. It was frustrating enough that we considered dumping the entire harvest. Now, we regularly sell strawberries 3 to 4 days after harvest that look much better than the 1-day-harvest strawberries we previously sold.
Some crops are cooled through the use of water, which means they are sprayed with ice cold well water. If you have helpers, it is really important to alert us about the serious damage caused to a fruit by directing a jet of water pressure towards it. Strong crops like kale, cabbages, turnips, carrots, beets can withstand a jet of water; But we don’t do that for green vegetables, lettuce, basil, coriander, or other crops that could retain water, causing other types of spoilage problems.