The Profitable Mini-Farm – Wash-Pack Equipment (E07) (FSFS270)

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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 inside and outside section of Roebuck Farm’s wash-pack station, as well as the key equipment found inside.

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 what’s inside the wash pack (00:07)
  • The outside & inside section of Jodi Roebuck’s wash pack station (01:23)
  • Harvesting and spraying down root vegetables (03:17)
  • How Roebuck Farm washes their carrots post-harvest (05:43)
  • Jodi Roebuck’s criteria for grading carrots for restaurant sales (07:24)
    • The value of understanding how your customers use your produce (10:34)
  • Grading other root vegetables for sales outlets (12:02)
  • Key components of the indoor section of the wash pack station (13:15)
    • What a bubbler does to greens (15:56)
  • Cleaning out sediment from the bottom of a bubbler tank (17:16)
  • The biggest tweak on the bubbler (18:42)
  • After the bubbler, the greens to into a drain station (20:29)
    • The biggest bottleneck of Roebuck Farm’s wash and pack (22:43)
  • Wet climate, wet vegetables (24:00)
  • The drying rack is key to a long shelf life (25:03)
    • A concrete floor is a wash and pack’s best friend (28:39)
  • Every salad crop dries differently (29:43)

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[00:00] Diego Footer: Welcome to the Profitable Mini Farm. I'm your host, Diego. DIEGO. Today, it's episode seven of the series, and we continue our mini segment on Wash Pack. Last week, we looked at the building, design considerations for putting together the optimum wash pack building. Today, we're gonna look inside that building, at the equipment inside of it.

How do you get the lettuce clean? How do you dry the lettuce? How do you clean those root vegetables? That's the focus of today's episode on the Profitable Mini Farm with Farmer Jodi Roebuck coming up. Today's episode of The Profitable Mini Farm is brought to you by Paperpot Co.

[00:45] Here at Paperpot Co., our goal is to help you plant fast so you can do more. From time and labor-saving tools like the Paperpot Transplanter and the Jang Seeder, we have a lot to offer. Learn more about some of our time and labor-saving tools at Now, let's jump right into it with Farmer, Jodi Roebuck.

[01:07] In a previous episode, we talked about the design of the wash pack system. This week, we're talking about the components that go into that system. Your wash pack, there's two sections. There's an inside section and an outside section.

[01:23] To start out, at a very high level, what's the purpose of the outside section and what's the purpose of the inside?

[01:32] Jodi Roebuck: So we first built the inside section thinking we would do everything in there, but really, the indoor section was set up for mixed salad.

And in our second season, we built the outdoor washroom, which is a concrete floor with a drain, a lean two roof with tint on it, lights, potable water. We've got our spray guns upside down. They're really efficient to use like that, the blue guns. And we've got portable trolleys, so the outdoor washroom is for washing everything except for salad.

[02:05] We don't bunch a lot on the farm and what we do bunch, we bring from the field to the outdoor washroom and clean it and bunch it there. So coriander, spring onions would be the most bunching we do. We also pre-wash all of our root veg there. Turnips and radishes with a little an inch of green on top, carrots, top and tailed.

And we also go through a lot of vegetable containers or totes during the salad washing and drying and mixing process. So it means the outdoor washroom, we can have two people working, firing water around, getting dirt off everything. And then everything from the outdoor washroom does come through the indoor washroom, getting graded, dried, packaged, and correlated. You know, our orders putting together, especially for restaurant.

[02:53] We've just expanded with a roof line over the entrance to the salad room, which has really doubled the outdoor washroom area, which is great �cause now we've got mobile trolleys, another spray gun, and we can have two people working there at once.

You might be on bunching while another person's cleaning all the tubs to have them back into the salad wash and pack.

[03:17] Diego Footer: How does the root veg come out of the field and then is spraying good enough?

[03:22] Jodi Roebuck: Really depends on the weather, when there�s been really heavy rain, carrots, for example, will hold quite a bit of soil. When we're lifting carrots in the field, they just pull, we don't have to fork them out. We're tipping the tail and the top off, and we're bringing them over in 20-liter buckets at a two at a time, and just filling the buckets up with water to pre-soak them.

[03:44] That might be 30 minutes or a couple of hours later once you've done a big carrot harvest. And then we tip them into perforated crates, and a big change we made with the blue spray guns is our pump had a bit of lag on it, so we put in a new pump that has no lag.

So the pressure on those blue guns is now instant. That was a big time saver for us. And so we have the root veg laid out in four crates, only about six inches deep. So that you can get all the soil off. We present everything to our retail and especially restaurant industry ready to go. So when our chefs get our carrots, they don't have to muck around with tidying the ends or washing them or cleaning soil.

[03:42] And so we pre-rinse 'em with the blue spray gun. We've got quite good pressure on that. And then we do a brief wash, a final wash once most of the soil is off using the power blaster, and we just hold that above the carrots and move the head quite quickly so we're not actually taking the skin off the carrot as well.

I really like washing the root veg with the water blaster, and it's really sped things up for us. The power washer cost about $120. That changed it for us, especially the root veg. You know, when they are troublesome, they're coming out the ground real dirty, just real, real big time saver.

[05:12] Pretty sure it also saves water. We don't measure the water that we use in the outdoor washroom, but I'm pretty confident the outdoor washroom uses a lot more water than the salad room.

[05:24] Diego Footer: You're really into processing in terms of making processes efficient. I know it just seems like you're spraying off carrots or other root veg with water to get 'em clean, but are there any tips to not waste time and improve efficiency when washing root veg?

[05:43] Jodi Roebuck: Once we're washing them, I've learned that you can only�so we set out four crates, we could set out more. So we've pre-soaked the carrots in the bucket to make the soil super well damp and soft, so it comes off easy. We're only putting about six inches of carrots in a crate at a time so that we can get the soil off quicker.

And that's done with the blue gun upside down, and I've got my other hand in there moving the carrots around or shaking the tote around. Then I grab the power washer and wash them and hit the carrots with that. The soil's all gone now. We're really just, polishing�s not the right word, but it really cleans them up.

And then I take one crate, tip it into another, again, hit it with a power washer, take a third crate, tip that on top again, and every time I add more carrots in, I hit it with a power washer again, and then that goes onto a trolley with wheels. A crate of carrots, I'd have to go home and weigh it, but it could be 20 kilograms.

If I've got three of those to come into the wash and pack, we're just wheeling them in. And I'll come back to the drying screen when we talk about the indoor wash and pack. But everything goes on our drying screen which is super sturdy. Carrots, then, we use a lot of towels in the wash and pack, so we always have a sealed container with clean, dry towels in it.

We then briefly rub down the carrots with the towel and then have the fans on as we begin grading off the table, off the drying screen into crates, grading out grade one for restaurant, and everything else goes to retail.

[07:24] Diego Footer: Can you explain your criteria for grading? What makes it grade one?

[07:29] Jodi Roebuck: Generally, with the carrots, for restaurant, no blemishes, no holes, no green top. The carrot variety, we've done about 40 types of carrots, and now we just do one. It took us, you know, that long to find a variety that works. It�s a classic orange carrot and it's not a tapered carrot. It's got a blunt end, quite a wide blunt end. The variety is called soprano from Terranova Seeds.

[07:55] And the kind of, the joke is we do giant baby carrots, so I'll just rewind�when we're lifting carrots, we don't do a first pick and second pick looking for size. We just crop out the whole bed. And then once it hits the drying screen, that's where we're doing our grading. And so we're looking for uniformity, and we've got one restaurant that buys all our grade one carrots.

The length, I haven't got a ruler here��cause they've gotta go on a plate. We don't go too long, but I would say over 20 centimeters. So, you know, it's really pushing the boundaries on what is a baby carrot, but it's 85 days old consistently. If we keep the length around, I'd say 22 centimeters, you know, six to seven inches max.

And no green on the top. If the carrot is a little wider at the top, we can let that in. And after four years of supplying our restaurant, they're buying, let's say 15 bags. We send them out in two and a half kg bags. They're buying 40 kilograms a week nine months of the year. So we're grading off first the restaurant carrots, generally, or if there's a whole lot of bad carrots in there, other easy spot, we'll grade them out first.

And what we've just done, the restaurant occasionally say to us, oh, your carrots are getting a bit big. Cuz you know, they're really into their numbers per plate. And obviously, if the carrots are bigger, there's less in a bag. And I've explained to them, you don't really have much say on the carrots when they come out the ground.

[09:44] We're focusing on harvesting in about 85 days before there's any vigor in the tops to begin, you know, the bolting process. And so they pre boil them, then put 'em in the chiller, and then just before dining, they've got a big coal oven. It runs super hot. They put the carrots in the oven and with a glaze before serving them up hot on the plate.

And I suggested if you wanna increase your margin per plate, the wider carrots after you've pre-cooked, could you cut them once long ways? And so they've started doing that, which means they've doubled their profit margin on the carrots. They love the quality of what we send to them. So possibly, we're gonna make a little less money on carrots with them because of that suggestion.

[10:34] And I think I know we're talking about wash and pack. We'll come to talking a lot about restaurant trade in the future, but I wanna jump in now. It's really important to understand how your chefs and your retail customers, but how your chefs are using the product once they receive them, cuz that can help you understand.

Increasing your sales, what you supply. When we first started with the carrots, we were asked, can we grow them? And I said, sure. What's the price you pay? They said 17.55 plus GST, plus 15% a kilogram. And the carrots they were getting had a one-inch green top on there. And for us, that summer, we were lifting carrots. The variety we had had weak tops.

[11:20] And I only had one in every 10 carrots that I could keep a green one-inch top on. So it was a lot of work. And the first thing I did on my first delivery, I said to the chef, can you explain what you do with the carrots now? And they said, sure. We just snapped that green top off, mate.

And I was just like, yeehaw, I've got a ton of carrots in the chiller that don't have tops. It's faster for us to top 'em in the field than to muck around leaving that green inch on there. So lifting 'em in the field is pretty efficient. And you know, we're generally able to push the size a little bit, but you know, I'd say it's a large baby carrot.

[12:02] Diego Footer: What about other root, veg? Same basic process that you run 'em through?

[12:07] Jodi Roebuck: Beetroot, we lift, we don't crop the bed out. We we're transplanting them with the paper pot transplanter. We lift them, so we are just picking everything that's sized up and we bring them to the outdoor washroom with tops on.

We like to work at the outdoor washroom, standing up, doing all the processing rather than in the field to bent over. And it's also, if it's hot, if it's windy, if it's wet, the outdoor washroom's pretty comfortable to work in. And beets, we're using a serrated knife and taking most of the top off. The largest beets go to restaurant.

And the smaller beets generally get mixed with other root veg and then, radishes and turnips, same. We generally do two picks on them, and we bring them to the outdoor washroom and leave one inch of green top on there. And then same process for both of those. Pre-wash with the blue spray gun and then a quick power wash. The carrots I'd say they're a little more assertive with than the root vege with the green top.

[13:15] Diego Footer: All the root veg gets cleaned outside, so moving inside now, inside will be where you process a lot of the other veg coming off the farm, your salad mixes. Can you talk about some of the key components of that?

[13:31] Jodi Roebuck: Yep. So I think we talked the other week in the design, everything's insulated, great lighting. No timber, concrete floor, and drainage. As we come in, we've got a big wide glass door, that's the main access from salad wash and pack to the outdoor wash and pack. It's just a few steps. All of our totes have to come in and out.

And just kind of jumping on the conversation with the totes. Once our totes are washed, they're still wet. They're stacked in a tower. We store them in the chiller, not outside, and the outdoor washroom, just one comment. Because possibly a bird could have access to it. it's all stainless. We wash that before we start working there every harvest.

So the indoor washroom as we come through the glass door. And then there's a big roller door, which for us, it's all on the south. So for you, the north, as you come in, first thing is hand wash, hand sanitizer, and a list of reasons to wash your hands for our employees. And then immediately from there we go into the bubbler, which yeah, we call it the Salad jacuzzi, where we switched from a black plastic tub to a custom made stainless bubbler about two years ago. And that was�I wish I did it earlier.

[14:50] The bubbler holds 400 liters of water. It's approximately 1.8 meters wide, and it's about a meter across. We've got about 500 mils of water and depth in there, and just the classic barb blower suspended on the ceiling, got a pull cord to turn that on and off. And when we set up the pressure pipe with the holes in it to blow the air through the water, we're mucked around with our mark two, but there's three rows of pike.

The outside rows, we tilted on an angle so that the air blows up not to the surface. It blows to the side wall of the bubbler, about two thirds up on the water depth. And this new bubbler we set up, the movement was actually too good. It was perfect. Super even. So what we did is we blocked up on the far right side of the bubbler.

We blocked up the holes there to create a dead zone. And we're gonna come to micros on a one of these interviews. We wash all of our microgreens and separate out the seed hulls. So the real role of the bubble is, and this is just my take on it, but it's to separate out everything you don't want your customer to be eating.

And so what's everything that sinks in the bubbler, caterpillars, slugs, soil. And then real quickly with the field salad, if there's a little bit of grass or weed pressure coming in, that generally moves out to the outside edge or to the dead zone and that far corner, and we lift that out with a pool screen.

And with the micrograms, a percentage of the steep holes float to that corner. We pool screen them out and the rest sink. And so we're really big on processing our cleanest crops first and the dirtiest ones last, and generally, we're doing a big harvest with one bubbler full of water. The pool screen really helps us to screen between each batch and keep it clean.

So most things sink. It's generally the seed hulls and the lighter weeds that will float and we can separate them out.

[17:11] Diego Footer: How do you get the sediment out of the bottom of the tank?

[17:16] Jodi Roebuck: So we worked with a local stainless steel company on making this bubbler, and we don't make anything on it. We also support other growers with, you know, they can go direct to our stainless steel company and purchase this bubbler.

We maximize the materials to keep the cost down. And so we have, on the floor of the bubbler, we have fall on there. But if I could make it again and spend, the cost would increase, I would put quite an extreme fall on the floor just to really speed up that process of all the debris you don't want, everything that sinks to be able to go out that valve down the bottom.

So, generally, if there's quite a bit of soil on the bottom, I'll open the valve underneath. I'll just do that with my foot, and I'll use the pool screen to push the majority of the soil out or debris from the last wash, and then I'll close off that valve, add a bit more fresh water up to our level.

We've worked out the best water level on the bubble where we get the most even movement, and we draw a line on that. And so we constantly just adding a bit more water, draining out, adding a bit more water and carrying on. When we reinstalled the new bubbler, we increased the size of the waterline in, which has really sped up the time it takes to fill the bubbler.

[18:42] Diego Footer: The bubbler thing is something that has became really popular in the last few years. What's been the biggest tweak you've made?

[18:52] Jodi Roebuck: The benefits of the stainless and been able to make it to custom size. Like, you know, depending on your space and your wash and pack, the volumes you're doing, the new stainless, in terms of the floor plan, it only takes up 20 centimeters more space, in terms of length.

[19:12] But we've actually got double the water in there because of the depth. And the biggest change with stainless, so it's rectangle, it doesn't have oval edges, is scooping out, the salad is much quicker. But the biggest game changer, obviously, it's much easier to sanitize, but it's totally visibility.

You can see everything in there. You can see the quality of the water. You can see if there's soil sitting on the bottom. Our last tub was black, and it was really difficult to see, you know, your problems, which sink. And I think just one comment about the bubbler, how we use it is what we found is some of the green salads, it might be a green radish micro, a green mizuna, or a green lettuce.

If we leave them in the water too long, it's not the movement, it's the time in the water, they can get a water marking on. So, you know, we bubble anything from 30 seconds to four minutes. You can't over bubble, but there's a waiting period when we turn it off for your problems to sink before we start scooping our salad out.

So we're never removing salad from the bubbler while it's active with the pump on.

[20:29] Diego Footer: So moving the salad along in that line, everything you don't want is drained out. It's floating on the surface. Next step?

[20:39:] Jodi Roebuck: So we, I guess this is a, you know, again, we've all got a different sizes, something. We're really big on retail and restaurant. We've gotta do high quality, clean food.

We can't have customers ringing in saying, I've got a wood chip, I've got a slug or anything like that. We�ve got a drain station next, and we use 20 liters, so I guess that's roughly five-gallon food grade buckets. And then we use clothes bags, and we spin. All of our salad gets spun in a clothes bag.

So we have the buckets. They have holes drilled on the bottom. We're filling up the buckets with salad right to the top. And if it's lettuce mix, I might pull the majority of that out with my hands and then get the final bit out with the pool screen. If it's microgreens, it's coming up with the pool screen �cause it's so tiny.

And we're filling up the clothes bags, closing the tops on those. As you're filling up each bag, they're draining already, and then they go into the salad spinner. And this is something, I know it might sound a little different to the converted salad spinner that you�re probably familiar with.

We've just got a $20 washing machine. We've got it for a box of beer, and it's got a lid that closes. It's got no cylindrical upright tube in it. And we are able to spin. And we tricked it. I had a New York grower stay with us and this was his idea. We've taped a magnet to the dashboard of the washing machine so that we can spin with the lid open and then when we're finished, we can close the lid. The salad dries quicker with the lid off.

[22:26] And it took us quite a few seasons, we opened that we're slow learners, to work out. We can actually spin three bags of salad in there at once, which is about eight to 10 kilograms in one spin. So it's not the bottleneck of the wash and pack. I think the biggest bottleneck for us in the whole process is if something comes in the field that needs a lot of grading, and we make a call on that the smaller the leaf type, the harder it is to grade.

So we're grading in the field first and then grading continuously through the wash and pack. And so we're spinning based on the weather, is it cold and humid, and how wet the crop is. And what I've kind of noticed, Diego, is there's a, what I call it, shrinkage. There's a percentage of water that's gonna be removed.

And so we've just standardized everything. If I bring in a bucket of lettuce that it's generally 2.2 kgs wet. By the time it's washed and dried, there's 20% shrinkage on field salad that comes in wet, and there's only a 10% shrinkage on microgreens that come after they're washed and dried, too. So this really helps me with my crew in quantifying how many units we wanna bring in from the field.

If we've got a set order for so many kilograms, lettuce, for example, we need 10 kilograms where we're gonna harvest 12. It just helps with no waste at the end.

[24:00] Diego Footer: Is that because it's so wet there, like you get so much rain, that's why the lettuce is so wet?

[24:06] Jodi Roebuck: Yep. Yeah. So at 2.3 meters is spread over nine months. And you know, we've just gotta work around. We can't greens harvest it in the rain.

And then the other flip side, like the baby in mizuna, for example, if it's too wet, I might get it the day before or wait for the weather to pass. In winter, I can harvest that in the afternoon. Definitely not in summer. And in summer, if I need to go back in the field to get more, and we've got some heat units on it, I'll gently irrigate for a couple of minutes and let that settle before coming back to Greens Harvester it.

[24:45] And kind of my general theory with using the Greens harvester is if conditions aren't ideal, I'll switch a brand new blade, and that makes a huge difference in not crimping the crop and actually cutting it super clean to bring into the wash and pack.

[25:03] Diego Footer: When that lettuce comes out of the spinner, I think there's some mixed schools of thought in terms of what happens next. Some people throw it on a drying screen, some people won't. What do you do?

[25:18] Jodi Roebuck: Every crop, at some point, goes onto our drying screen. It's probably the key part of our shelf life, I'd say. And so, we don't eat salad on the farm. We do, but not salad on the same day harvest. We eat salad that comes back as a return from retail.

[25:41] So the salad we eat is between one to two weeks old. And that's our feedback, you know, if our salad's good at day 10 or 12, it's all good for our customers. So I'll explain our drying screen, and we made this day one: we did make a little alteration.

I think it is 1600 wide 1.6 meters wide, and it's 650 mills deep. And it's really solid. The screen is stainless steel woven, six millimeter screen, and you could put, you know, 40 kg of carrots on that. It drops down�

It's hinged at the back on the wall, and we've chains that come down to support it. And then we have fans suspended above it on a pulley so we can lift the fans up or down to speed up the drying. And the fans are all wired to one switch, so flick one switch, fans are on. We also removed the covers off the fan. After a few years, we found they were easier to clean, and we got better airflow.

And if you're standing at the drying screen, one of my employees, Sam Gibbons, who's now at Farm, our employees come with some great ideas over time. We drop that screen and then we have a brush. We're brushing down that screen, you know, a hundred times in a harvest.

It actually bangs on the wall, and it is timber frame. The piece of timber that you would stand at, that your belly would touch. We cut an angle on that so that when we're dropping the screen, everything just falls out. I think it, it took like 60% of the time out of getting that screen clean again before lifting it up, before the next batch of salad or whatever comes across it. So it's a great workbench.

When it's time for mixing salad, we can put, you know, totes and totes of product up on there. It could even be something heavy like carrots, just increases our workbench space up there too, and it's super easy to, you know, sanitize and keep clean.

[27:55] Diego Footer: Can you describe that cut a little more? So you're standing at the drying screen, facing the wall. Your stomach would touch the front board. What's unique about that board?

[28:08] Jodi Roebuck: So the timber is�I'll try inches�is three by two, and it runs the whole way around the screen, the side that faces away from you. We just cut an angle on that so that when you drop the screen down that angle, instead of that face of timber being horizontal, it slopes down, which just allows everything to roll off the screen to the floor.

And I know this sounds silly, but the concrete floor is your best friend in the wash and pack. If you haven't worked in a wash and pack before, you might not realize that everything hits the floor. All your waste goes to the floor, and nothing goes down our drain. Before we hose down our floor, we are sweeping everything up before hosing down.

So you know, underneath the drying screen at the end of a harvest, there's a fair bit of salad down there, which is all the small fines, anything you've graded out. We choose to put everything over the drying screen. We can really dial in the moisture content before it gets packaged, and that helps with our shelf life, which helps with increasing sales �cause you've got more days to sell it.

If I've got all my bunch cori, I've processed them outside, I've plunged them under in a tub of water and shaken them out. We briefly put them on the fan too, just to adjust the moisture before they go to restaurant or retail. What other crops are we drying? And every salad dries differently.

So some people like, what's the, you know, well, why don't you just have a list on the wall? Mizuna, two minutes. Lettuce, one minute, whatever. Each crop takes a different time to dry. Mizuna drives the fastest, lettuce would probably be next. Radish micros dry very differently. They go like a little rubbery on top, and so we're constantly moving the salad around on the screen to get the moisture even before lifting that into a clear container.

And, you know, back into the chiller. Oh, and the pea shoots take the longest to dry. And then as we've now gotten into the afternoon and summer, and it's warm outside, we'll just shut the whole�close in the wash and pack. Things dry super fast in there cause it's low humidity generally, and winter, when it's cold and humid it takes a lot longer to dry.

So, our thing is if the bottleneck is becoming the drying screen, you didn't spin it long enough, so sometimes, we'll do a double spin on something knowing it's just gonna fly across the drying screen.

Diego Footer: There you have it, farmer Jodi Roebuck on Wash Pack Equipment. Next week we'll conclude this mini wash pack series. When we look at the process, what goes into washing the vegetables inside the building using the equip. We just talked about, so check that episode out next week. If you're enjoying this series, can you do me a favor?

Take a minute and leave a review on iTunes. It seems insignificant, but it matters. Your reviews, your comments on iTunes. Help more people find the show. Help more people learn about farming. Take a moment and leave a. Hope you enjoyed this one. Thanks for listening. Until next time, be nice, be thankful, and do the work.

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