Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Because We Love Our Customers

Because We Love Our Customers

This Memorial Day, while others were camping, having bonfires, visiting with family, and attending Veterans services, we were spending our time in service to our customers.  It was rainy, cold and windy outside.  Too yucky to work outside, so you see, this was the perfect time to make some headway on our new wash/pack facility. 

We had a beautiful facility at our old place built with love by Barry, his Uncle Jim and some great help from my nephews but the move has us building again at the new farm. (And just when we thought we were quite through building!)

Our wash/pack facility is very important to us.  It is the place where we can ensure the quality and freshness of our product for our customers.  It is where our cooler is located so the herbs are properly cooled to seal in freshness and make them last longer once they reach their destinations.  It's where we have our sinks to wash and sanitize our tubs and totes so the food inside is safe from bacteria.  It's a clean room where we package our product for sale in grocery stores and restaurants and to our share holders - this makes sure the cleanest product comes to your door.  All in all, we follow Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) to make sure our product is the safest, freshest, and as long lasting as it can be. 

As a part of GAP, we make sure our water is tested so it is certified as safe.  We track the cooler temperature to make sure things are stored at the proper temperature.  We keep logs of how clean the facility is.  We make sure items are stored properly, like cleaners away from food and everything up off the floor.  We make sure all lights are covered with a 'cage' to prevent glass from entering anywhere near food items in case one gets accidentally broken.  We have at least four sinks - one for handwahing, a separate one for washing tubs and totes, one for rinsing and one for sanitizing.  We have a large counter for air drying tubs and totes - air drying is cleaner and safer than drying with towels once an item has been sanitized.  It's a lot of work, a lot of log keeping - but it's worth it to know that our product is safe and fresh.

We actually started the project a couple weeks ago when we tore out all of the ceiling and walls to get back to bare bones.  We then had the electrician come and update all the wiring and ensure it could handle our cooler and our other electrical needs.

By Saturday night we had removed the old leaky window that was causing the water damage on the exterior wall, framed in an opening for a new window to come, made a hole in the other wall for the cooler unit and had all of the insulation installed.

By Sunday night we had put up the vapor barrier, and framed in one wall of the cooler.  We also had the air conditioner that we use for the cooler all cleaned up and serviced.  Our cooler runs on a system called a CoolBot.  More information about this can be found on their website at www.storeitcold.com.  I know that we are not following their cooler installation instructions so if you're reading this and trying to learn to build a walk in cooler yourself - don't follow us!  We have a special circumstance in that herbs, Basil especially, do not like to be too cold.  Our cooler temps are normally a little higher than anyone storing vegetables or other foods.  Normally, you would not use bat insulation around a cooler...

By Monday night we had both walls framed in, the doorway is framed in and we made the sure door will fit and open and close properly and we had the ceiling insulated with the rigid insulation.  With the temps we keep in our cooler, we needed to have a total R value - the heat retention value of the insulation - to be at least 20.  We're over that so we'll be happy once we're done.  It sure doesn't look like we did a lot on Monday but let me tell you - cutting and fitting the rigid foam insulation in a tight space over your head - especially with 9 foot ceilings and I'm 5'3" is tough work!  We also got our shelving unit put into the cooler - you see, once the door is on, it's too big to fit in so it needed to be fit into the cooler before the door and walls.  Now we'll just have to work around it until we're all done.

We're a long way from finishing but its a really good start.  We'll need to place the rest of the rigid foam insulation on the cooler walls. We will then fill all seams and gaps with expanding foam and caulk, insulate the back sides of the cooler walls and the rest of the room's walls, put up wall board or sheating, install a window, install the cooling unit, install the plumbing, install the sinks - and a counter for them to sit on, bring over our stainless steel work tables, paint, install the lights, outlets and switches, and let us not forget - reside the outside where the old window came out and maybe a new walk in door so it's cleaner and more airtight.  It will be hard work but worth it to know our product is cool, clean and fresh for our customers!  We'll give you a tour when we're all done!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Many Hands Make Light Work

This past weekend, we - with the help of some GREAT friends - tore down the high tunnel and moved it to our new farm.  The weather could not have been better or the company/help better.
Don Albertson came with his Bobcat.  After erecting the high tunnel a couple years ago without this piece of equipment, I can tell you how much time and trouble this little machine saved us.  Don worked from his machine and raised and lowered the workers to each area as needed.   With a 12 foot peak on the tunnel, reaching the top in a stable Bobcat bucket rather than a rickety ladder standing in the back of a truck box was a joy.  I'm sure OSHA would have shut us down, but it really was the way to go.  All Don asked in return was a cup of coffee. 

Then there was Bob.  Bob Nelson of Doyan came all the way over just to help.  Bob is the guy in the Bobcat bucket.  The one way on top...

Bob and his wife Marte Stensli-Holen raise vegetables, chickens, goats, cows, horses, and kids on their farm and participate in a CSA and farmers markets.  Marte stayed home with the children, Liam and Matthea and Bob came to lend a hand.  Thank goodness he did.  Bob is the kind of guy that is fun to work with.  He's a hard worker and quick.  He has a sunny disposition, interesting stories, good ideas and in general just the kind of guy you want to be around - makes you a better person just to be with him.

And of course we can't forget the Haus family. 
It's almost hard to imagine but we've been solid friends with the Haus family since before there was a 'family'.  My Rent-A-Kid Katie just turned 16.  All but grown and very beautiful, Kate is the creative imaginative daughter I 'borrow' every once in a while.  Her siblings, Emily, Anna, and Jarrod have grown up before my eyes and have turned into some very fun young people to be around.  If it weren't for them taking out all the screws and bolts on the baseboards, I'm sure the project would have taken much longer.  Their parents, Tom and Karen are our best friends. They dug perennials flowers to take home as their prize and pay. 
 With the high tunnel down by 3 PM and loaded on the trailer and brought home by 6:30, we even had some time to explore the new place with the Haus family.  Our little wood nymph Anna particularly enjoyed the trees.  Tom, who has a forge scrounged a few pieces of metal and Karen and I enjoyed a Caesar, uninterrupted as everyone explored.  The evening ended with a little wood tick picking, 8 showers, a discussion about Beaver Butt used in 'natural' raspberry flavoring and a off to a sound sleep for all.

Thanks so much to all of your friends who helped with this project.  Without you, this would have been a long, drawn-out, and painful process.  We can't thank you enough!  Now with any luck, we'll get it erected in its new and final home by end of July so we can get the fall basil planted on time!