From Soil to $old: A daylong workshop for commercial produce growers, market gardeners, and agriculture professionals to teach practices for increasing yields, quality, and storage shelf-life for locally grown fruits and vegetables.
Saturday, April 29th two regional experts and area farmers came together atop Serenity Knoll for Soil to $old; a daylong workshop for commercial produce growers, market gardeners, and agriculture professionals aimed at soil conservation, increasing yield, and prolonging shelf-life of produce. Serenity Knoll Farm, in Jonesborough TN provided the perfect venue with plenty of shade and a great mountain view for this event. Aside from a wonderful lunch catered by Boone St. Market and good company, here’s what you missed:
Postharvest Handling with Patricia Tripp
Patricia Tripp of Artisan Food Solutions in Greensboro, NC started the day by leading a session on Post-Harvest Handling. Holding a Master’s Degree in Agricultural and Life Sciences, Tripp is a food safety expert and local food advocate. Her work emphasizes food safety and creates supply chain solutions to better support a new generation of produce farmers. Tripp’s postharvest handling workshops give family and small-scale farms the needed tools to compete with “the big guys.” During Saturday’s workshop, regional growers developed skills to help preserve the quality and increase shelf life of fresh produce. Everything from how and when to harvest to proper packing methods was covered. This included a hands-on produce grading exercise requiring participants to use the USDA grading scale to sort and grade locally sourced produce. Camille Cody of Serenity Knoll found herself sorting radishes from her farm, all getting top notch reviews. Tripp’s presentation and workshop included postharvest handling for advanced shelf life, wholesaler challenges, quality control, food safety regulations and much more. Below you will find resource links including, “Wholesale and Retail Product Specifications: Guidance and Best Practices for Fresh Produce,” a handy guide developed to assist individual growers and grower based distributors and food hubs.
Postharvest Handling Resources:
North Carolina Growing Together: Funded by the USDA, NC Growing Together brings more locally-grown foods – produce, meat, dairy, and seafood – into mainstream retail and food service supply chains, enhancing food security thus increasing access to local foods and by strengthening the economics of small to mid-sized farm and fish operations. On their site, you will find a wealth of resources that are not necessarily North Carolina specific, including the “Wholesale and Retail Product Specifications: Guidance and Best Practices for Fresh Produce.” This guide, prepared by Patricia Tripp was “developed to assist individual growers and grower based distributors and food hubs by (1) outlining a clear set of descriptive guidelines for quality, size, labeling, packaging and USDA grade classification and (2) providing guidance on how to improve the presentation of produce in the marketplace to enhance sales to retailers and wholesalers.” In partnership with the NC Cooperative Extension, NC Growing Together has also published a guide to understanding PLU and UPC codes, “Tips for Produce Growers Marketing Fresh Produce to Retail Grocers.” The PLU and UPC code system is outlined clearly as is how the codes are used for traceability.
This fact sheet translates harvest volume from 100-foot rows and acres of typical North Carolina fruit and vegetable crops into cases and pallets, so that growers can get a sense of how much product they may have for wholesale or grocery store markets. The fact sheet can help in planning for this season’s crop, as well as for longer-term planning to grow specific items for grocery and wholesale markets.
N.C. State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute has developed a mobile refrigeration trailer – the “Pack ‘N Cool” – that agricultural producers can use as a model for constructing their own units. The Pack ‘N Cool combines the mobility of a cargo trailer with the refrigeration capabilities of a commercial cooler in a more cost-efficient package.
Soil Health with Mike Hubbs
“Soil health, also referred to as soil quality, is defined as the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans. This definition speaks to the importance of managing soils so they are sustainable for future generations.” https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/soils/health/
Mike Hubbs, director of Soil Health with the TN Association of Conservation Districts opened the afternoon highlighting soil health and conservation. During Saturday’s workshop, he used a live rainfall simulator with soils taken from regional working farms to illustrate the water runoff and levels of soil erosion from four differently managed plots of land. According to the USDA, in 2007 the Appalachian region had an erosion rate of 3.2 tons per acre. While this has decline 53% in the past two decades, every ton lost to farmers through erosion equates to monetary expense, and has environmental consequence. Addressing erosion and building soil health is simply good business and land stewardship.
Plot (1), far left: Woodland lot, containing the most secure soil, displayed no discernable soil erosion with little run-off. The water was clear.
Plot (2): Rotational Grazing, with intact root system, displayed little soil erosion in the water run-off. The run-off was marginal.
Plot (3): Cover Crop with Round-Up used as kill off, displayed a higher rate of both soil erosion and water run-off.
Plot (4): Over grazed plot, displayed more soil erosion than Plot (2), but still has good root system
Plot (5): Tilled, because of the lack of soil stability this plot had a high rate of erosion and water run-off. The collection bucket contained a large amount of silt deposit.
What does this all mean? Soil health is the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains and improves the living condition of plants, animals, and humans. A healthy soil is a healthy ecosystem that includes microorganisms, plant, and animal life. Mike recommends the use of long term, no-till cover crop systems and well maintained rotational grazing systems. The general practices of managing soils for long term health are not disturbing (tilling) the soil; keeping the soil covered and with living roots year-round (with cover crops or mulches); high diversity of species in the cover and roots. His overlying message to farmers: By improving soil health, farmers can reduce input costs and boost productivity for bigger harvests and decrease erosion.
Soil Health Resources:
Want to read more about good crop and rotational grazing practices? Mike Hubbs publishes a regular blog, “Soil Health Hero’s,” spotlighting over 30 East TN farmers. He explains in depth how their systems work and the positive outcomes of proper land management. http://tnacd.org/index.php/soil-health/soil-health-heros
You will also find on the TNACD website a list of soil health facts and other resources.
The SmartMix Calculator is a handy and simple to use tool for those wanting to utilize cover crop rotation. Area rainfall and frost dates are estimated by zip code. Enter in your desired effect; building organic matter, erosion control, weed control, etc. and you will be given a list of cover crops and an estimation of productivity.