Thursday, November 19, 2009

Indiana farmer devises innovative field to market method for small produce farms

After working nights in a factory job, Kevin Cooley is realizing his dream and creating new field to market methods for small produce farms at Cooley Family Farms in Lafayette, IN.

Several years ago Cooley and his wife, Tracy, realized that his manufacturing management job was taking him away from their family and their dream to keep close to the soil and his roots. They decided to expand their gardens to a scale large enough to become Cooley’s full-time occupation.

Through the help of a 2005 Farmer Rancher grant from NCR-SARE, Cooley is designing, building, and testing a washing system, including machines and plastic crates, to reduce the labor requirements needed to harvest, prepare, package, and transport various kinds of fresh produce.

“Using this machine, reductions can be made in the time needed to wash produce that had to be harvested in less than ideal conditions, like green beans covered with dirt from a recent downpour,” said Cooley.

“While attending the Purdue University Horticultural Congress a few years ago, I heard a gentleman talk about how he had received a SARE grant to do some research on season extension,” explained Cooley. “I had the idea, but we lacked the funds that would be needed to try these ideas. I visited the SARE website and learned about how SARE could make it possible to bring the ideas to life.”

Making small produce farming more effective was a primary goal of Cooley’s project. “It was important to me in the concept of this project to reduce labor needs, which would allow for a single operator to accomplish more by doing multiple tasks -- this is being realized. I have learned that our crate based system can save time and money by reducing redundant handling of produce between the field and the marketplace.” said Cooley.

Cooley used the obstacles that accompanied his research and experimentation as learning experiences. “When you hit a road block or difficult period you should stop and look at the purpose of the project and what it will improve for your farm. This will help to refocus and rethink what needs to be done and how to restart.”

Cooley's Project was recently featured in Vegetable Grower's News. Read the piece here.

To read more about the SARE project involved, visit the SARE reporting website at

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