The Profitable Mini-Farm – Wash-Pack Setup (E06) (FSFS269)

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Episode Summary

The Profitable Mini-Farm is a new series hosted by Diego Footer and Jodi Roebuck to take a deep dive into the technicalities of farming—from designing your farm’s layout to crop planning to treating your soil.

In this episode of The Profitable Mini Farm, we’re taking a look at the importance of having a wash-pack station on the farm as well as some considerations for designing a functional wash-pack.

Today’s Guest: Jodi Roebuck

Jodi Roebuck is the main farmer behind Roebuck Farm and is a John Jeavons alumnus. He has been teaching sustainable bio-intensive growing techniques all over the world for over 20 years with the aim of creating sustainable food systems while bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.

            Roebuck FarmWebsite | Instagram | Facebook

In this episode of Farm Small, Farm Smart

  • Diego introduces the episode on the wash-pack setup (01:08)
  • The next step after putting up beds: look at your market streams (02:13)
  • Why put the wash-pack at the beginning (03:13)
  • Jodie Roebuck’s definition of a wash-pack (03:57)
  • Produce that drop by and don’t drop by the wash-pack (05:46)
  • Advice for finding the right size wash and pack (06:57)
  • Considerations for designing a food-safe wash-pack (09:26)
  • Roebuck Farm’s continuous improvement of their wash-pack station (11:57)
  • Where should you prioritize the money that goes into a wash-pack station? (13:39)
  • Plan your wash-pack that offers the most optionality (17:56)
  • Jodi Roebuck and their farm’s wash-pack location (21:10)
  • Configuring where everything sits in a wash-pack station (24:02)
  • Giving importance to worker safety and comfort when designing a wash-pack (30:17)
  • The key factors that go into a wash pack design (35:43)
  • Additional considerations for a wash-pack design (36:53)
  • Processing produce differently now versus six years ago (39:36)
  • The wash-pack is the last mile—it’s money well-spent (43:58)
  • Too much salad? Leave it in the field (47:00)
    • Longer saleable days means better profitability (47:37)

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FSFS269 (TPMF06)

[00:00:00] Diego Footer: Welcome to the Profitable Mini Farm. I'm your host, Diego, DIEGO. Each week on the profitable mini farm, farmer Jodi Roebuck and I take a closer look at what makes Jodi's small market farm in New Zealand so successful. We started this show because a lot of people questioned the viability of market farming.

[00:00:23] Can you actually make a living doing it or do you have to just eke by? Well, we didn't want anyone to have to eke by, and we both know of so many farmers who are crushing it market farming. So the show is to help out, not just the people who are successful to become more successful, but it's really aimed at the people who are new and starting out, or the people that are struggling to help get them to the next level, like some of these other people are who are doing so well.

[00:00:52] Each week we focus on a specific topic around the nuts and bolts of farming. In the field farming, we don't talk a lot of business. We will cover some, but it's mostly in the field farming, in the soil, in the dirt, growing crops. Today's episode focuses specifically on the wash pack. This is gonna be broken up into a few episodes.

[00:01:15] Today we're focusing on the building part of the wash pack setup, so you'll have a structure that houses all of your equipment, like your bubblers and your drying screens. That's next episode. Today, it's about the building that houses all of that equipment. We're gonna hit on things like design considerations and important things to think about when putting this building up on your farm.

[00:01:40] But before we get into today's episode, a word from our sponsor. This episode's brought to you by Paperpot Co. Farm Tools. Paperpot Co. is your source for time and labor-saving farm tools. From the Paperpot transplanter to the Jang Seeder to the industry leading Kwik Klik Seeder, our goal at Paperpot Co is to help you plant fast so you can live more.

[00:02:02] Learn how you can become more efficient on your farm with some of the tools we have to offer at Picking up from the previous episode, we now have our site designed. Beds are in place. What next?

[00:02:20] Jodi Roebuck: Start with market streams. That kind of drives, drives everything initially and long term. The changes that come in the future are always market driven.

[00:02:32] We built our wash and pack before we sold our first bag of salad, and you know, there was an investment up front. We didn't have farm income coming in to spend on that wash and pack. And looking back, it's the best thing we did, Diego, is building that wash and pack. I think, you know, on a farm like La Grelinette, JM�s quoting 40% of your work is wash and pack.

[00:02:59] We're a mixed salad, primarily a mixed salad business. In summer, we have more variety. Everything's gotta come through wash and pack. It's quality control, and wash and pack in the earlier piece, I highly recommend it.

[00:03:13] Diego Footer: Why wash pack before something else? You know, other people might wanna say, okay, I wanna get planting right away. I wanna put up high tunnels first. Why do you put wash pack at the beginning?

[00:03:28] Jodi Roebuck: I've seen growers that have been farming as long as us that still don't have a wash and pack, and it's just, it's like my second home, this�everything's gotta come through wash and pack before it leaves the farm. And we spend so much time in there, it's a really comfortable space for our staff as well.

[00:03:45] We can work in the wash and pack while it's raining or in the heat of the afternoon. I think it's underestimated how much work is gonna be involved post-harvest.

[00:03:57] Diego Footer: People that are experienced are gonna know right away what wash pack means. When you talk about wash pack, what's the equipment you include in that? Are we talking everything obviously from washing the veg to refrigeration to the structure that houses it? What's your definition of the wash pack?

[00:04:17] Jodi Roebuck: Yeah, I think everything you've just mentioned, Diego. Everything comes in from the field in the condition it is, pre-graded at harvest and everything goes through some kind of wash process for salad that goes through the bubbler, which is a jacuzzi.

[00:04:34] And so at the general process for everything is washing, screening, spinning, drying, and grading the whole way through and then into the walk-in chiller, and then it comes back out for the next stage, which could be mixing, packaging. So our wash and pack design is set up that we call it the main wash and pack, which is five meters square and it's completely enclosed in.

[00:05:04] That's where the majority of our work is working on salad, which is our more profitable part of the business. And attached to that, we have a counter lever roof with tinted clear light on the roof to keep the heat down and the rain out. And we have lots of lighting. And the outdoor washing is where we water blast totes.

[00:05:28] Pre-wash all of our root veg, and the little bit of bunching that we do, like spring onions and coriander, that all happens in the outdoor washroom. After everything's processed in the outdoor washroom, it comes through the indoor washroom mainly for final drying on the screen and packaging and packaging's right next to the walk-in chiller.

[00:05:46] Diego Footer: So the primary things you have to wash on your farm, root veg. It should be like your radish, turnips, carrots, and then you have all your greens that are coming out of the field. Is there anything that's not in those two categories getting washed?

[00:06:05] Jodi Roebuck: Cucumbers. After picking those, we just rub them down with a dry towel before packaging or storage, so that's very little work involved there.

[00:06:17] Tomatoes we don't wash, obviously. They go straight into storage or packaging, or ideally, delivery. That's the one place you want, don't want your vegetables when we're supplying retail, the one place we don't want our produce is in our chiller. We want it in our fridges across town. There's very few items that we don't wash.

[00:06:39] I had a guess I'd say tomatoes and pea shoots, which we grow in the field. They just come out so clean. We hand harvest them. And pea shoots are the longest crop to dry if you did put them in the bubbler, so that's so clean. We just grade them. And actually don't wash them.

[00:06:57] Diego Footer: For somebody just starting out, I think designing a wash pack system before you farmed. It's intimidating.

[00:07:05] You're really just relying on the advice of someone else because you've never done it. You don't know how big of a bubbler you need. You don't know how big of a drying rack you need. You might not even need a drying rack as some people don't use them in their conditions. How would you advise somebody to think about sizing their wash pack, you know, for a market farm?

[00:07:29] Jodi Roebuck: My kind of journey was working on other people's farms to get a bit of perspective. And you know, the style of our business is very influenced by Curtis Stone, having worked in Curtis's wash and pack, amongst others, but that was really the scale and the style that we were gonna base our business on was very insightful.

[00:07:52] After that trip, which was 2016, I worked on Curtis's Farm and on John Martin�s two farms, obviously the big FQT is a much bigger scale than us. Really, our wash and pack is just a very small version of FQT. Curtis's wash and pack with his beautiful, hot, dry climate, the structure was a little bit different. He just had a roof line, wood chips on the ground.

[00:08:17] We've got we're completely closed in. We've got insulation in all our walls to keep the temperature down. Concrete floor with drainage. I think that one's overlooked cuz you might be surprised. But everything that is waste that you're grading out goes to the floor, through coming off the drying screen.

[00:08:37] What we're not including in our sales and then that gets swept up, goes to the compost, and then we can hose, hose the floor down, water blasts the floor down. And I think the general rule for the wash and pack is meeting the food act. And that'll be different everywhere. But clean, safe food comes from�is done efficiently in a wash and pack that is set up where it's super easy to clean.

[00:09:03] Nothing touches the floor. We've chosen with our wash and pack that is small to put everything on wheels, so it's modular. So for a huge harvest, we can scale up just by bringing in trolleys that are on wheels. For example, when it's time to mix our salad, we can set out and mix about 14 tubs of salad in one hit. Two people can do that in 20 minutes.

[00:09:26] Diego Footer: I think there's really layers or levels of wash packs from the extreme DIY that people have of just starting out. You know, some people are washing in buckets more or less out in the field, and that's how they get started. But now, especially post-Covid, you're seeing increased food safety come into play.

[00:09:47] And I'm not an expert on this, but I think the general rule is like all surfaces have to be cleanable, sanitization, and you have to be in an environment that can be controlled, meaning, you know, there's not birds flying in there that can, you know, poop on everything and things like that. So I think it's one area that is a big investment �cuz I'm with you.

[00:10:10] I think you wanna do it right in the beginning. It doesn't mean you have to build your ultimate wash pack on day one, but I think it is one area where you spend money, things like concrete, so you're not standing in mud. Things like insulation or hot water or heat, an AC, you know, for worker comfort, 40% of your time�s in wash pack.

[00:10:29] Those people wanna be comfortable. If you can control that environment, it just helps the produce be that much better. And the equipment you're gonna have, you know, if you want movable equipment like you have, good luck on doing that, on something like wood chips or just a dirt floor that's gonna turn into a mud pit.

[00:10:52] I think it's the same as when you're designing a field, you know, you always wanna be thinking, where is all the excess water going? You know, when you drain bubblers, when your root washer empties, where's that water going and how do you get it away? And I always think, you know, imagine you're getting sued, right?

[00:11:14] And inspector comes to your farm. Would you be okay and like proud to show them your wash pack? Or would you not really want that inspector to show up on your farm? And if you're the latter, then you probably need to do some design.

[00:11:32] Jodi Roebuck: Sure. So the process with our wash and pack over the years is it's the one place where strive for continuous improvement. And the auditors really acknowledge that, too. It may not be perfect, but if you can explain, you know, your future, we're gonna do this, we're gonna close it in, we're gonna�everything's gonna be stainless. They'd like to see that you're striving to make improvements in there. Our initial pack, when we built it, was not closed in on our south side.

[00:12:03] So that's your north side and that's where our cold wind and wind and rain come in. And it was just money. The wash and pack was operational from day one and the configuration hadn't changed. So we come in, we've got hand wash followed by the bubller, originally that was a feed trough. Followed by our spinning and then the drying screen, which then turns around straight into the chiller.

[00:12:31] And then from the chiller we come straight out to packaging. So nothing's really changed in the workflow there, except for over years, after our third or fourth season, e completely closed in the wash and pack, glass doors, roller doors on the south side. We lined the ceiling with, it's like a um, sign board.

[00:12:52] It's white. It's very good for light. It's also super easy to clean. And at that point, I've completely closing in the wash and pack, we doubled the lighting, especially even for places like you might bring in a mixing trolley just for 20 minutes of the wash and pack process and we're able to turn on lights above where all of our workers are.

[00:13:16] �Cause grading is your biggest job to do in the wash and pack. Getting your moisture content right really helps with your storage. And so the layout hasn't changed, but we have spent more money in the wash and pack over the years as we can afford it, and I think you just nailed it, Diego, that if it's comfortable for your staff, it's good for the quality of your produce as well.

[00:13:39] Diego Footer: You know, I'm thinking layouts, and there's a lot of places people can get information on layouts. So if we think, okay, how can we leverage your experience here on this episode, right, to help somebody new? We don't need to tell 'em how to build a bubbler. They can find that information somewhere else.

[00:13:53] Or how to build a drying rack. They can get that in a Curtis's book or something. When you look at a wash pack, and let's say you had a budget to build their wash pack. Where do you think the money is best spent? So I could buy a commercial, triple wash washing line for my lettuce and have it under an easy, up in the middle of a field.

[00:14:17] So all the money went to the washing, or I could build an amazing structure and I'm washing outta buckets. I mean, that's an extreme example, but if you think about the budgeting that goes into a whole wash pack, where would you prioritize the money and where are areas you think you can save or DIY it?

[00:14:36] Jodi Roebuck: I would go for the later. I would invest in a nice build, even if you're washing in buckets in there. Because you know that when you can afford it, you can build a bubbler and you can retrofit and keep investing. So I would start with the build and just as time allows, as your market stream allows you to reinvest, just keep doing that over time.

[00:15:03] We started with the plastic bubble after our fourth season. We made a custom stainless steel bubbler that was a game changer for us. The footprint is no bigger, but it has doubled the liters of water. The visibility's way better. It's also�we can sanitize it. It's just more efficient. We can put double the salad in the new bubbler and like changes this year we going before going into winter, outside the wash and pack, 1e've just had wood chips.

[00:15:33] And so you also gotta think, how do I get the produce from my chiller to my market streams. And over time our access to the wash and pack, which was about a foot deep of big wood chips, just turned to mud. I couldn't, with our rainfall, I couldn't even get my four-wheel drive truck in there two winters ago.

[00:15:55] So we concreted the access last season up to wash and pack and then put a counter lever roof out over top. So the vehicle is under drive. It's the vehicles even dry when we're loading up. And concrete's a game changer for us cuz we use trolleys. We don't do any lifting, we're wheeling everything around. Now we can wheel our harvest, which could be heavy like root vegetables, straight out to the truck.

[00:16:22] And regardless of the weather, we can load up. It's super easy to keep clean and we don't have dirt, wood chips and junk coming in to the wash and pack stuck to your feet. That investment, Diego, it's a 30 square meter roof line out front. It's clear light with lighting and the concrete, which we've got fall and drainage, was about 17,000.

[00:16:47] And I think one of the savings you can make is if you're handy, yourself, you can do a fair bit of that work yourself as well. That's gonna take you away from the field. Like we did the boxing up and unboxing for the concrete. We laid the drains. We stood the posts up. There comes a point where you don't have time to be doing the build yourself cuz you're working in the field.

[00:17:11] And that's one transition we had where in the early days we were at, we did everything we could. These days, I keep the farm running and I pay our builder to come and do that work for us. And I think that's a� I'd like to ask your take on this one, but you ring a builder out of the phone book and you say, I wanna build a wash and pack.

[00:17:35] They've got no idea what you've been talking about. So having some plans formulated so they can see it, having some content that they can see to understand what it is they're gonna be building for you, your builder�s a key person in that process, and your plumber, and your electric.

[00:17:56] Diego Footer: I agree. I think there's a lot that comes to mind with planning. A few things that I, you know, I've just learned over the years and I kind of live by this mantra of, move in the direction of the most optionality, like always have an option.

[00:18:12] So unless your property is so tight that like there's only one spot to put a wash pack, and you could never build it again and never make it bigger, I think you need to be thinking ahead. Meaning, here's my initial wash pack, this is what I need, and you design that out. But if I ever wanted to expand, what would expansion look like?

[00:18:38] It doesn't mean you have to ever expand, but you wanna design it and put it in a spot where you could expand, things like you mentioned, like can you get a vehicle in there? I can just see this nightmare scenario and somebody, you know, builds a wash pack in the quote, perfect location.

[00:18:55] And then they're like, I can't even get my truck or van anywhere near close to that. So I think those things are important, these, all these little nuances. Where is it in relation to the product coming from off the field? You know, it's like a permaculture zones thing. If most of your beds converge into one area, then it makes sense to have the wash pack there. But it also has to be near utilities.

[00:19:23] You know, you're probably gonna have a bathroom on site for staff. You're gonna need hand wash stations now for food compliance. So you need to be able to get plumbing into there. You're obviously gonna need electricity into there. The water drainage, again, we go back to that.

[00:19:41] I think thinking with the end in mind is the route that that people should look at. I mean, I love what you said of, Hey, focus on the things that are harder to change first, and then the things that are easier to change, you can do that stuff later. So like it's harder to change where you put a building than it is to get a new bubbler.

[00:20:10] So if you spend most of your time designing that layout, your efforts better spent there. If you get the wrong cart, well you wasted some money on the cart, but you can probably sell it and get a new one. So I like that. And I think the other thing is people go down this route of like, I just wanna build it myself.

[00:20:30] Like, oh, it's too expensive to get a builder. And this is one of those things maybe. But maybe not. Like, if you're really handy and you have a ton of surplus time, then you build it yourself. But for most people who are starting a business, I can say just, just hire it out. You're gonna bring somebody in who does this every day, has the right tools, has the right crew, has the right equipment, they can bang it out.

[00:20:59] You know, probably five times faster than you can, and that allows you to focus on the things you should be doing in the business, like adding value, increasing sales, those types of things. So, you know, when you look at, say, your wash pack, when you first put it in, in location A on the farm, does that location still make sense given how your farm is expanded? Or if you had to do it over, would you actually move where it.

[00:21:26] Jodi Roebuck: We know our wash and pack. I'm real happy where it is. As we expand. So, just to give a bit of context, we've only got about three acres, three quarters of an acre, sorry, of flat land. That's our potential as we grow and the way it sits, the wash and pack is the shortest amount of steps from the four furthest parts of our production.

[00:21:52] So it kind of works that, and the main path goes past all our beds, greenhouses to wash and pack, the new greenhouse we're building lines up with the concrete access to wash and pack. So again, we can utilize our wheels and trolleys very easily through that main, the new main access. The kind of, you know, with small-scale, fast turnover crops, so the whole farm's high rotation.

[00:22:20] And it's not far for any of our product to make it to was and pack. And just jumping in there, too, our wash pack we designed with the second bay as the tool shed, which also means all of our tools that need to go out to the field and back in, super central as well. And you know, when we cover direct seeeding in another episode, you'll see how it really works for us, having the tool shed attached to the wash pack.

[00:22:53] They're separate rooms, but the scales that we use in the wash and pack, we also use for weighing everything we direct seed in the field, and we also log everything on the back of the walk-in chiller, on the farm whiteboard. So we understand the current days to maturity of all of our crops in the field box.

[00:23:10] So everything's gotta come from the field to the wash and pack. That's before we determine what are we bringing in today, or as we bring it in, we can continuously check in what's the current days to maturity on this crop, which helps with our consistency.

[00:23:28] Diego Footer: in terms of the interior layout, one thing I like that you mentioned is everything's on rollers�or probably a lot of it's on rollers, not all of it.

[00:23:39] And that allows you to move things around, either I guess as you learn more information about, hey, what process actually works best as the farm grows, as the maybe needs of the wash pack change seasonally �cuz you know, if you're harvesting a bunch of tomatoes at a particular time of year and not so much salad mix, while your wash packs can operate a lot different than it would in the middle of early spring when you have no tomatoes.

[00:24:02] And I'm big into like processes and flow, I think you are, too. Where it's like, okay, how can I give somebody a situation where they're taking the least amount of steps or they're moving heavy stuff the least amount that they have to, and for somebody who's never designed a wash pack before, you know, you might just say, oh, put the sink there.

[00:24:26] You know, put the dryer over here and put the packing table here. But then that flow might, you know, people might be crossing paths when you do that. A couple things. What are your thoughts on one, just kind of doing what you did in the field of like, lay it out ahead of time, you know, have some things set up.

[00:24:49] They could just be lawn chairs or crates or whatever of like, here's the dryer, here's the bubbler, here's this, here's the door. I'm gonna pretend to come in from the field with product. Where am I gonna set it? How does it work through? And if we had several people in here, how do they operate in this space?

[00:25:07] A 10-foot by 20-foot space might sound great on paper or in your head, but then when you actually lay that out and now you have things that are three feet deep, you only have a four foot walkway. Suddenly, it's like super tight. So did you do anything like that when you designed yours of just mapping it out to figure out where should stuff go and how can I work in this?

[00:25:29] Jodi Roebuck: I should have laid it out in the field. I didn't. I did do a sketch of the configuration and it wasn't to scale, it was just a sketch. And I sent that sketch to Curtis after my trip over there and he kind of gave me the thumbs up, you know, cuz I'd worked in wash and packs, but not for long enough to really understand, this is where you're gonna spend 40% plus of your time.

[00:25:55] As soon as Curtis came back to visit us, the first thing he pointed at was the bagging area, Diego. And he said, that's your bottleneck. And he was dead right. And so we changed the layout there. We just had a wooden table, you know, it was makeshift. We changed to a long, skinny stainless bench. And now underneath, everything's on wheels.

[00:26:14] We've got our packaging. We've got spare crates ready to put product into. We've got our inventory for everything we need to keep wash and pack going, and the calibrator scales on top of that bench. Plus another whiteboard above there where we track all our orders. So that's the tightest space we have in our packaging area, but kind of what I've learned over the years is your best friend is wheels.

[00:26:42] We've just screwed wheels onto everything like the mixing trolleys, but also our vegetable crates. So one vegetable crate has wheels on it. I call that a base plate. And then we can just stack more crate stuff on top of that. That means you've got crates ready to go to field. Or if you're scaling up a, let's say you're doing a Christmas salad harvest for us that summer, and you are doing double volumes.

[00:27:06] You can reconfigure the tabletop layout simply just by wheeling stuff around and by setting the crates up, you can set it to a height for a short person or a tall person. You can keep everyone comfortable. So kind of just stick with this theme of being able to reconfigure constantly. As your workflow changes, you learn new things, your marketing streams increase.

[00:27:31] A lot of people come, they see a wash and pack, and their first question is, is your walk-in chiller big enough? And my answer is, it's only two meters by two meters. And it's in the center of our wash and pack and tool shed area. It's one step to get to it. And I say, well, if we get to full capacity on our three quarters of an acre, take on two more supermarkets, we've got the space because we are using�we're stacking everything vertically.

[00:28:06] Once all of our salads are washed and in the chiller, and they're just like towers, we can wheel out�and we've done, we've bagged up the single items, and then we're ready to mix. We can set up, bring in the mixing trolleys, set up to do a mix. And if we double in scale, all we need to do is bring out half of the salad, mix that, and as we're spreading out, that's the time that you're briefly taking up all your wash and pack space.

[00:28:34] We mix half the salad so that that could be radish micros, pea shoots, mizuna, lettuce, and then we fill the tubs up, stack them on a tower, push them back in the chiller, and then bring the second half out, and we're already set up for mixing, and we just hit the second mix so we can see that we can double our turnover, our volumes, without having to reinvent the wheel, build a bigger wash and pack.

[00:29:01] And it's the been able to change your configuration around with the wheels. The mixing trolleys are just such a game changer for us. And going back to the early days, we didn't have any of this. And when it was time to mix the salad, we were putting crates on the floor and just make total makeshift.

[00:29:19] And it was small scale and it worked. But now we're set up to be able to scale up, scale down in the matter of 10 minutes. And when it's time to clean that place, roll everything out, sweep everything up, wash down the floor, and then come in and water blast everything. So one person in 45 minutes could do a deep clean of the whole wash and pack, including the walk-in chiller for us that has a concrete floor. So you just walk straight in there. There's no ramp or step up to it.

[00:29:48] Diego Footer: So you can just wheel a cart right into there?

[00:29:50] Jodi Roebuck: �utilizes the space and makes life. Yep. You can have a crate. Oh, I've got these little steel crates that for heavy veg you can have a crate with 150 kilogram of carrots stacked in it and just wheel them in and out without lifting.

[00:30:04] Once they're ready to go to supermarket, you know, it's a pretty heavy, we can wheel it straight to the truck, which is about two meters away from the door of the wash and pack of the walk-in chiller.

[00:30:17] Diego Footer: Yeah. I love the idea of wheels. Cause I mean, the good thing about wheels is if you're buying something that has the option to buy wheels, it costs a little more.

[00:30:24] But once you put it in place with the wheels on it, if you don't ever wanna use the wheels, that's fine. You don't have to move it. But if you ever do wanna move it, the wheels are there. And I think that's critical. I think there's more emphasis now on worker comfort and just safety. And I mean, if you're a business owner, you want a safe work environment, at least you should.

[00:30:46] Because if, you know, you'd wanna provide that for anybody cuz that's what you would wanna be provided if you were working somewhere. And you also want people to be happy again probably, cuz you just generally should want your employees to be happy. But in general, safety and happiness is gonna lead to more productivity.

[00:31:05] So if you think about, hey, I'm moving heavy stuff, is somebody lugging this around? If they are, I mean, you have the potential for back injuries, you have the potential for slippage, those types of things. So just by putting it on a cart makes it a lot easier for more people. And I think people also need to be thinking about who's in their wash pack and how are you designing this.

[00:31:28] You know, if you're some dude that's, six-two, right? Like you might want things a certain way, but if you're never working in the wash pack and all your shelves are, or your countertops are 45 inches high or something like that, and then yeah, you know, the person you hire is five foot two and weighs a buck 10.

[00:31:52] You know, they're on a stool, and that's just a total mess. So it's like, who's working there? A lot of farms employ stay-at-home moms because it's like a great job for them because it's seasonal or it's not every day of the week. It's kind of clumpy like, we need you two days a week for four hours and for a lot of moms, that works.

[00:32:14] I know a lot of farms that do this. And like, how would those moms operate in this space? Probably a lot different than how some big guy would operate in this space. So I think about who's gonna be in there and then just from a comfort standpoint, it's like, would you wanna operate in this environment if you were in here eight hours a day?

[00:32:35] And it's not like, oh, let's design some luxury wash pack. But again, it just goes back to safety and happiness. If you wouldn't be comfortable operating in this environment, why do you expect somebody else to do it, especially when you're probably paying them a lot less than you'd pay yourself?

[00:32:53] Jodi Roebuck: This winter, which we just got through winter, was wet again. But with the new concrete access and the drainage and the, the ClearLight roof and lighting over the top, we didn't really notice the winter because our work environment, it was just way more comfortable. We can leave produce out front of the wash and pack now cause it's undercover. We can leave produce there longer, we can load up super easy.

[00:33:22] Even in the rain, our product's still dry. We're not doing any lifting. The wheels work everywhere now. And the, the roof expansion out front of the wash and pack also doubled our outdoor wash and pack, which in this area was very small. Same, we've got portable trolleys here. We're using the blue spray guns, and we've got them suspended from the roof and we use them upside down so that they're just always there at the perfect height. You don't have to hold them up.

[00:33:49] You spray, you leave the guns, that's suspended to bunch whatever you're bunching. Just really, now we can have three people working on the outdoor wash and pack. The other thing that was a game changer years ago for us in the outdoor wash and pack is a water blaster. Cause we take top and tail all our carrots. We

[00:34:08] pre-wash 'em with the blue spray gun and then we hit them briefly with the water blaster. So they come into wash and pack super clean before grading. The other thing, I think Americans call them totes, all your vegetable bins. We use a lot of vegetable bins and some of them, we use them three times a day and they've gotta be washed and dried between each time the, you know, salad or produce is touching them.

[00:34:37] So we've just got a base plate for our three standard vegetable crates or totes, and we screwed the first tote to the bottom. And so after mixing salad, we just wheel all of our totes out to the outdoor wash and pack. It's about four meters away in distance. And we can water blast our totes in a matter of minutes.

[00:35:02] And you know, our system of containers, we might have 30 of those washed. And they're still wet. That 30 of those is heavy that you don't wanna be lifting them. So we just make a tower of clean totes, wheel them back into the wash and pack. We'll store them in the chiller wet, and then we dry them immediately before we're filling them up with, especially with salad. The amount of time we saved just by putting in the water blaster out there it was phenomenal.

[00:35:31] Diego Footer: You had water blaster, translating your New Zealanders, I'm assuming is a pressure washer. Here in the States.

[00:35:37] Jodi Roebuck: Yep. Yeah. Yep. And it's just a domestic one. Cheap ass.

[00:35:43] Diego Footer: So if we think about this from a just macro design, if we, again, forgetting the minutiae of what's in here, the keys to wash pack, permanent structure, climate control and enclosed that worker comfort and also just food safety, cleanable, sanitizatizable surfaces.

[00:36:04] We have plumbing going to it to allow water to come in and go away. We have obviously, electricity. We have it centrally located on our farm to limit the amount of transportation of product when it's harvested to the wash pack, we make it accessible for our delivery vehicle to get in there. And if we're in a climate that has a lot of rain or inclement weather, we can do that undercover.

[00:36:31] We're all on the same plane, flat surface, so carts can be utilized. There's no going up ramps or steps. Is there anything else that we're missing there in terms of key design factors that somebody could think about? Because these are all things that aren't applicable to scale. This could be a small building or a large building. Are we missing anything?

[00:36:53] Jodi Roebuck: No, I think you've got it. Just a few little tips that things we've changed over the years. Consider your waterline in and increasing the size of that pipe so you're not waiting forever for the bubbler to fill. Also, you're drain on the way out.

[00:37:13] You draining the bubbly, you want it to drain fast. That's a change we made when we put the new bubbler in. So it fills, it's twice as big and it fills twice as fast. Over the years, the one thing we've kept increasing in there is more lighting. So you're probably gonna do your design and then you're probably gonna need double the lighting that you've accounted for in the beginning.

[00:37:34] And I think you need potable water, need to do water tests for that. Depending, you might have town water. That is potable, or you might be rural. We've got rain, rainwater. We collect off the roof. We have a UV filter for that. So we've also put systems in place so that every January, that's when my wife's home for the month.

[00:37:57] That's when we service everything. We just hit everything. It's in the calendar. We change the UV bulb, we do the water test, we calibrate the scales, all of that kind of stuff. These are all things that I think are pretty universal with getting sign off. There'll be different names for what your sign off is, but kind of coming back to when it's time for your order to come.

[00:38:19] We are signed with signed off with National Program one. That's the Food Act in New Zealand. And then for Supermarket Supply we are signed off with GAP, which is global. It stands for Good Agricultural Practice. And that was the, we thought that was gonna be the big one, getting gap sign. Most of that sign off process was done in the office.

[00:38:40] And a lot of our questions were, we didn't, we were bypassed because most of them are about your spray program, you know, and cause we don't spray anything, we bypassed that. So when we took the auditor for GAP to our wash and pack, obviously we'd done a deep clean, he took one look. And he said, I've seen enough.

[00:39:01] He didn't even wanna know how the process runs in all our SOPs. He just took one look and he is like, you're gonna have operation in here. And we carried on looking around the farm. So yeah, the initial build, it's the big layer. It's big, big cost. Just recapping. Everything that you retrofit in there later on is not so costly, and you can do that over time, especially once you understand your processes.

[00:39:27] Like we wash and process things very differently now in our sixth season than we did in our first, and I know that's stating the obvious.

[00:39:36] Diego Footer: How are you different now?

[00:39:39] Jodi Roebuck: So firstly, every farm is different. Everybody does stuff differently. So this, there's no right or wrong, so this is how we do things. But like we do about two ton of microgreens a year, and we wash that in the bubbler because they separate the seed hulls out. We've got a pool screen in the bubbler.

[00:39:54] It took us three seasons to work out some very simple changes like our salad spinner. We put all of our salad into clothes bags. And we worked out, we can actually spin three closed bags full of salad in one spin. We used to put one or two in there. We've tweaked our spinner simply by taping a magnet to the top so that we can, it still has a lid, which means that nighttime, it's closed, no insects can get in there, anything.

[00:40:30] And then during the day, by taping a magnet to the dashboard that allows us to spin with the lid open, it simply just dries faster and then putting everything on wheels that that's a continual change for us. That was a massive game changer for allowing us to do more in a very small space, especially in our bagging station.

[00:40:52] That's the tightest space in our wash and pack. We can have four people work that because we've maximized the space, everything's on wheels. So as we're filling up crates, everything comes across the scales, gets packaged, labeled. It's standardized. We've got so many items in each crate. I know the value of each crate.

[00:41:13] The person that is doing the branding on the packaging and filling the crates, they just make a tower to the side of them, and they have replacement crates underneath the table ready to pull out and keep going. So four of us can work that space, and we don't need to say, excuse me, need to come past with two towers of salad for about every hour or something like that.

[00:41:36] And there's like, you know, 1500, $2,000 of product there. By the time we need to say, excuse me, you just wheel the salad that you're bagging, you wheel that away. You walk your towers of salad into the chiller, set up, keep going. So those kind of systems and processes being closed in was a game changer.

[00:41:55] More lighting and also just the other thing I think that's very generic for everyone is the weather on the day really, and your fast vegetables, if you miss baby mizuna is taken 17 days to grow in summer and you had beautiful weather versus horrible 17 days of weather, it comes in different quality and then the atmosphere, it might be hot and dry, it might be very cold and humid.

[00:42:28] High humidity, your drying times are different and you've gotta adjust there with your quality. So we might spin some salads twice in a very cold, a hundred percent humid day. Our next investment is to put in temperature control in that space so we can keep it at 12 degrees Celsius and keep the humidity down. And we know that that will be more comfortable for us working, but we can see that in challenging weather, we'll be able to get that salad across the drying screen quicker.

[00:43:01] Diego Footer: I love that little tip there and, I like, you know, build more lighting than you think you're gonna need. I could say the same thing with power outlets.

[00:43:11] Put way more in than you ever think you're gonna need. I'll just line the walls with them. The other things I'm thinking are like storage. If you're putting product into some sort of container, which most people are, bags, clam shells, boxes, where's that gonna be? It needs to be obviously somewhere close to where you're packing. If it is really humid, can you store your packing materials in there?

[00:43:39] If it's humid, you might need a separate adjacent structure or a room to store that stuff. If it's cardboard and humid, you know, eventually that might just go funky. So think about where you're gonna stack all these not the reusables, the consumables that you're putting product into. And, you know, one thing I love that you talked about is, you know, 1500 to $2,000 worth of salad mix in there.

[00:44:05] And I think people can think about this this way. It might sound like, oh man, you're putting a lot of emphasis on the wash pack. I could see this thing being very costly and it, and it will be. In trucking, there's this concept of the last mile. It's getting the product from the distributor to ultimately where it can go to a store to be sold to the consumer.

[00:44:27] And really, the wash pack is like the last mile for a farm, at least in terms of time, because you've spent months seeding, caring for it in the nursery, tending it in the field, and it's in and out of the wash pack most of this stuff in a day or two. So it's really the last mile. Every bit of work that you did for those days, weeks, months prior to hitting the wash pack can all be destroyed in a bad wash pack setup. If you can't store the product properly, if you can't clean it properly.

[00:45:05] Then it's all, you might, well, might as well not have grown it, and you're competing against other farms in the small-scale farm space, an ever increasingly competitive space where there's not a lot of product differentiation. I mean, your product might be great, Jodi, but there could be a farm across the street.

[00:45:22] Kind of growing the same thing and we could put 'em next to each other and nobody would be able to tell, possibly. But it comes down to little things like quality. Does it look good? Does it last when it gets to the end user? Appropriate cleaning and chillage help with keeping that product lasting in the customer and having it look good when the customer gets it.

[00:45:44] So if you think about it that way, like this is how I maintain or value add all the work that I've done in the field. So if it costs me a whole bunch of money to grow the crop, this is how I add more value by just presenting it extra nice. You know, like you take grapes and now you turn 'em into wine.

[00:46:04] They're worth more as wine than they were to grapes. Well, salad mix is worth more in a bag than it is in the field, and it preserves all the work you did. I think this is one area on the farm, like a high tunnel where it's money well spent.

[00:46:20] Jodi Roebuck: Yeah. I just got a couple of thoughts. Um, just backtracking what you call consumables are like all of our packaging, for example, all of that is stored underneath the bagging table, but it's all in sealable containers.

[00:46:36] Any packaging that isn't being used is back in the sealed container. Cause just you've gotta continually remember the Food Act. So nothing has potential for an insect to come and sit on it, or water to be sprayed on it. Or if our packaging hits the floor, it goes in the trash. We've got this, �nothing touches the floor� policy.

[00:47:00] Also, it's a lot of added value going on in the wash and pack. So if you've got too much salad for your market stream. My advice and is leave it in the field. Don't think I've got, I've grew it, I've grown it, I've gotta bring it in and package it wash and process it and package it and present it.

[00:47:22] If it's not gonna sell, you better to leave it in the field than to pay wages for all of that added value process to go on when you don't have a sale for it. And I know that's a hard lesson when you're overproducing, that's a whole nother subject.

[00:47:37] The difference with what we've set up in the wash and pack and the skills we're developing in there is we're seeing the feedback from our customers and retailers will restaurant the same, but our salads are good for two weeks.

[00:47:53] We take 'em out after day six, but our customers tell us all the time that shelf life is amazing. And that comes from, you know, how you've grown at the time you bring it out the field. But it's really everything that happens post-harvest that increases the shelf life along with your decisions.

[00:48:09] Like for us, tops off carrots, they last three and a half weeks in retail. And this is something we've really focused on is, how can we increase the shelf life, which means saleable days for every crop we produce? And coriander�s an example, we bunch and spring onions, we bunch these two in the outdoor washroom.

[00:48:33] We shake 'em out and then we briefly put them on the drying screen to adjust the moisture, and then we made a long sleeve for these and we seal that closed. Our coriander is good for three weeks in our retail stores, and it's selling like hot cakes. Prior to making that long sleeve, we're only selling to restaurants and last year we sold an insane amount of spring onions and people are just pumped when they, when they're like, this item was good for three weeks.

[00:49:05] Like our micros are good for 20 days. We had sellers when they come back from our retail stores. That's our assurance. We know that nobody's gonna have a problem even if they're eating our salad at day 10. Keeping that focus there, the more you can increase your saleable days, I think the more profitable you become.

[00:49:23] Diego Footer: Hundred percent agree. For sure. And just to wrap this up, I hope the takeaway for this is people can see the importance of wash pack in some of the critical design factors that go into it. And this is one area where it's gonna be an expensive investment. Like I think this could be five to $30,000 depending on how extravagant of a building you're putting.

[00:49:52] And this is one area where I think paying someone to give a second look at what you're doing is worth the money spent flying or driving to another farm that has a sweet wash pack and paying them for their time to look at something. Would be huge because you know, who cares if you spend $500 upfront on a $15,000 project and it saves you a $5,000 mistake?

[00:50:18] It was good money well spent. So I mean, those are my thoughts. Definitely. Get experience. You saw a lot of farms before you built yours, you know, you said you ran it across Curtis's desk and he gave some thoughts. I think, you know, reaching out to somebody like you, Jodi or or somebody else out there and visiting a farms and just seeing what are they doing, what are they like, what don't they like?

[00:50:40] Would go a long way. And then again, Keep the end in mind just because you're at stage one of your farm now, where do you wanna be in 10 years? Like, leave some doors open to expand, to grow, and to adapt With that, you have any closing thoughts?

[00:50:57] Jodi Roebuck: Just one. When I worked in Curtis's wash and pack, August, 2016, and you know, especially back then, you can see all of this on his YouTube, he ma he made a phenomenal amount of content pretty much after I left.

[00:51:11] I watched through his YouTube and Curtis shrunk everything down. He didn't reconfigure too much. He just brought everything closer and kind of recently, I've got the two step rule. Yeah, Curtis shrunk his wash and pack down, brought all of his worktops benches closer to each other, and I could see. I was intrigued, and as we've done that in our wash and pack too, I can, I can see that your workflow increases, your productivity increases.

[00:51:43] Everything is two steps away, every

[00:51:45] Diego Footer: task. Love the idea of that, and maybe next week we can get into actually talking about some of the equipment in the wash pack, what that is, what are our options there, and what people can do to get product clean and put it into that space.

[00:52:03] There you have it. Jody Robuck on wash pack, setup the building. Next week we'll come back and talk about the equipment that goes inside that building. If you enjoyed this episode and you wanna learn more, be sure to follow along with Jodi's Farm on Instagram using the link below. If you like this type of subject matter and you wanna hear more about a different topic, maybe that's harvesting, maybe at seating, hit me up on Instagram at Diego Footer and let me know what you'd like us to do a future episode on.

[00:52:37] We'd love to hear your thoughts. So hit me up at Diego Foot. That's all for this one. Thanks for listening. Until next time, be nice. Be thankful, and do the work.

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