farmers market

The Only Hack Farmers Should Care About

It’s always been tough to be a farmer. That’s why farmers have to be resilient and come up with their own hacks year after year.

Today, however, it’s become even harder. Farmers are plowing acre upon acre of produce during the COVID-19 crisis because consumer demand has changed so much, so quickly.

There are people desperately in need of food and farmers desperately in need of income, but there isn’t an adequate distribution and packing chain ready to deal with the shifts in consumption. Farmers benefit greatly from being able to buy time right now.

This farming hack could help save farmers thousands of dollars in harvests every year, especially during these uncertain times.

crop waste, farming
Photo by USEPA

Food Waste Is Wasted Money

The trends of food waste due to COVID-19 aren’t new. Food waste has been a massive problem around the world for decades. Globally, about one-third of the food goes to waste from farm to fork. Mountains and mountains of delicious food rot in this world because it is difficult to get all the food from farm to packing center to trucks to stores and to the consumer quickly enough. In fact, food is the single largest occupant of U.S. landfills. Half of all produce grown in the U.S. gets wasted at some point! That’s pure insanity!

The USDA estimates that consumers and retailers account for about 60% of this food loss in the U.S. On the other hand, farmers and food packers account for the other 40% of food lost in the system. We’re talking about $150 billion ($150,000,000,000) of wasted food to these inefficiencies every year. This waste is more than the entire GDP of countries like Ecuador, Cuba, or Ukraine!

Obviously, no one wants to see food rotting. Consumers don’t, buyers don’t, and farmers absolutely don’t. Large farmers and companies have the advantage of enormous capital to invest in food-saving technologies.

How can small farmers compete? In an era of farm consolidation, farming hacks are critical to long term survival.

cherries, farming hack

Benefits of On-Site Refrigeration

Have you ever dreamed of having a versatile walk-in cooler to store your cherries, lettuce, or tomatoes? These crops rot quickly in the heat and sun but can stay surprisingly fresh for a long time with proper cooling. All the big growers have large refrigeration capacity.

On-site refrigeration can help a grower keep their crop competitive for extra weeks or even months. Apples can be stored for almost nine months. Even sensitive crops like blueberries can be stored for over two weeks with proper cooling.

With crop distribution in flux during the COVID-era, an extra week might be the difference between securing a delivery or not. It might be the difference between plowing all of that labor and food into the ground or having it end up on someone’s dinner plate. This on-site refrigeration can decrease stress on farmers over deliveries and product health, ensuring them that their crops are staying fresh.

It’s hard for small farmers to remain competitive when the big guys have extra time due to their huge cooling capacity. So how can a small farmer get access to a walk-in cooler?

Cost-Conscious Farming

While manufactured walk-in coolers are extremely efficient and necessary for larger farming operations, they can be pricey. Such an expense may not make sense for all farmers.

When money is tight, farmers often come up with ingenious solutions. Farmers know how to build things, work with the land, and beat inefficiencies. There is an easy farming hack to making a DIY walk-in cooler that most farmers will be able to afford.

fruit, farmers

Famer’s Hack to a DIY Walk-In Cooler

Farmers are the kings of thrift and reuse. Materials are expensive, and many farms operate on slim profit margins. If an old tarp and some fence posts can be made into a shade structure for animals, why buy fancy new equipment?

It turns out that it isn’t all that hard to build your own walk-in cooler for cheap. With some construction know-how and a few special materials, it doesn’t take too long to build one of these crop-saving spaces.

So What’s the Ultimate Farming Hack?

CoolBot, a company that makes refrigeration controllers, has the ultimate farming hack – a comprehensive guide on how to build your own walk-in cooler. This guide offers direction on how to build one from the ground up, but it’s also possible to retrofit an old shed or room in a house with their technology.

The main investments are an AC unit and a controller. AC units are usually easy to find for sale on Craigslist or at any appliance store. The thermostat on these AC units only goes down to the 50s. The problem is that almost all crops store best in temperatures in the 30s and 40s. The hack you need to fix this problem is a controller.

The CoolBot controller plugs into the AC unit and can drive the thermostat all the way down to 32°F. It is also WiFi-enabled, so you can control it from anywhere! With some insulation, an AC unit, a room, and a controller, you can build a DIY walk-in cooler for your farm!

These components cost far less than a new, shiny walk-in cooler. They are also more versatile since you can control the temperature from afar and get alerts if anything goes wrong with the cooler. There are lots of videos on various methods of building walk-in coolers, and it’s best to watch a handful of them before starting on the project yourself.

Happy building! Get to it!

Article written by Evan Levy on June 5, 2020

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