We get these questions A LOT from members who are new to Groundworks. Most new families who come to us are familiar with farmers market produce, and have probably given a couple other CSA programs and delivery services a try over the years. But, they are universally blown away by both the flavor AND long-lasting nature of what we bring them – that’s why we have so many happy families who have been with us for 10 or more years. Groundworks Organic Farm Produce is undeniably THE BEST produce out there.
Here’s the short answer:
Our produce is of unparalleled quality – first of all – because we have 4 different walk-in coolers tuned to 4 different temperature and humidity specifications to perfectly meet the storage needs of each piece of produce. There are no other farms, grocery stores, or even produce companies with as many unique, specialized, state-of-the-art produce storage environments as we have here at Groundworks Organic Farm. Additionally, we have developed an entire procedural handbook of novel techniques to make flavorful, organic produce last an unbelievably long time from seed to table. Developing these techniques has been our relentless pursuit for 15 years. We are doing about 25 unique-to-Groundworks harvesting and handling procedures to maintain quality that nobody else is doing.
We’ve worked hard to develop our techniques and procedures, and they are the key to our success. Thank you to our members and supporters for YOUR part in all of the innovation in organic agriculture happening right here at Groundworks Organic Farm. Here’s to the future being a brighter, better, and less wasteful place to live!
Here’s the long answer:
We are obsessed with produce flavor and long-lasting quality for 2 reasons: 1) We want to provide our members with the best possible produce, and 2) we are passionate about reducing food waste (for many reasons we will save for another blog post). When produce just doesn’t go bad in your house, it doesn’t go to waste (and that makes everyone happy!).
At our own peril, we will share below a sampling of the many growing, harvesting and handling procedures we have developed over the years that make our produce both extremely flavorful and incredibly long-lasting. Our staff have worked at, and keep up with many other farms, and we can assure you that NOBODY is doing anything close to our efforts to maintain produce flavor and long-lasting quality for their customers. All of the following techniques are unique to Groundworks, and have been developed over 15 years of dedicated experimentation utilizing the scientific method. Here’s an overview of some notable and unique things going on at Groundworks Organic Farm:
-It Starts With the Soil. Groundworks Farm sits on Hurlock Loam Soil of Statewide Importance. The soil at Groundworks is special to begin with. We have visited MANY farms, and have yet to find a more beautiful soil anywhere – very dark brown, packed with organic matter and nutrients from years of ancient aquatic deposits, but yet also sandy and incredibly well-drained. The farm sits at the top of the local watershed and is very well-drained with a well-engineered system of swales and ditches, meaning it will never flood. All production fields are carefully graded every year to ensure excess rainwater will never sit in puddles and drown plants or create environments for fungal growth. Every inch of our production fields are planted to 1 or 2 cover crops every year – a summer cover crop mix of buckwheat and soybeans, and a winter cover crop of vetch. Cover crops increase biological diversity in the soil, which prevents disease outbreaks. The micronutrients injected into the soil from a stand of cover crops create flavorful, nutrient-dense, and resilient cash crops.
-You’ve Got to Space the Plants out Exactly Right. Proprietary in-ground plant spacing keeps airflow around plants and limits plant diseases, which ensures flavor and shelf life.
-DRY DRY DRY. Nothing gets harvested wet, ever. Plants must be dry (but not too hot) – they get wilty when they are too hot) for us to harvest. This means we do not harvest in the early morning (like most other farms) when dew covers every plant. We only harvest in the evening and nighttime (with powerful headlamps!) to maintain dry, crisp, and high quality harvests.
-Keep the Foliage Clean and Dry. We utilize soil tarps on many crops to keep the plants clean and undamaged by soil contact on foliage and fruit, maintaining flavor and shelf life.
-Don’t Leave Harvested Produce Unprotected. We take produce to our on-farm storage building after we have harvested either 4 bins, or 30 minutes has passed, whichever comes first. This keeps produce out of the wind and sun, which can greatly reduce quality. Ambient wind has a very negative effect on produce, even when it doesn’t feel “windy” the air is always moving around, which dehydrates harvested produce quickly, even at night.
-Correct Storage Temperature. Every crop likes a slightly different storage temperature, and we have created 4 different storage walk-in coolers to meet the needs of everything we grow. There are no other farms, grocery stores, or even produce companies with as many specialized, state-of-the-art produce storage environments as we have here at Groundworks Organic Farm. We have 1 high humidity (99%) and low temperature (35 °F) state-of-the-art walk-in cooler, 1 walk-in cooler JUST for basil that is 55 °F and 65% humidity, 1 walk-in cooler for tomatoes and eggplants that is 60 °F and 65% humidity, and 1 walk-in cooler that is 75 °F and 85% humidity that is just for ripening tomatoes that need just a little more time and attention until they’re perfect.
-Temperature Pull-down. When our crops enter our storage facility here at the farm their core temperature is the temperature of the outside air – this can range from 37 °F all the way to 110 °F. Our challenge is to bring the core temperature of every piece of produce down (or up!) to its ideal storage temperature as quickly as possible without drying out the product or creating water condensation. This is incredibly difficult to do well and we have a number of handling tricks to do so.
-Proprietary Stacking Techniques. This set of rules and procedures in storage provides maximum airflow around every container, keeping optimal storage temperatures constant once the produce has been brought to its optimal temperature.
-Insulated Containers for Members to Take Home. Protection of greens and other very temperature-sensitive items in insulated cardboard boxes when they are going out for delivery in our refrigerated truck keeps the produce protected from adverse temperatures from when you pick it up to when you can get it into your refrigerator. Other farms will give you waxed cardboard produce boxes full of holes – not us. Produce boxes full of vent holes means that the produce inside is getting condensation all over it (it won’t last very long after that), and the produce is getting exposed to air movement and heat on your way home (it won’t last very long after that). Also, side note: waxed produce boxes that you might get from another farm ARE NOT recyclable – a subject for another blog post. We reuse our FULLY RECYCLABLE containers when folks bring them back.
-Produce Sorting and Packing Happens at 60 °F and 60% Humidity. Sorting and packaging of produce happens in a well-lit, clean, insulated room directly connected to our state of the art walk-in coolers. We keep this room at 60 degrees fahrenheit and 60% humidity to ensure that no produce gets condensation forming on it when we bring it out of the coolers for inspection and packaging. A higher temperature and higher humidity packaging environment would lead to water condensing on your produce, and a much-reduced shelf life because of it. Wet produce will last about ⅓ as long as well-handled produce kept dry with our handling and harvesting techniques. We NEVER package produce unless our packing room is at or below 60 °F and 60% humidity. It does get chilly working in there all day, but we just put on snow pants and carry on because we believe in what we are doing – creating the best produce available, reducing food waste (from produce going bad too quickly), and protecting our local ecosystem with ever-improving organic farming techniques.
–We love what we do and LOVE developing techniques to do it better! Thank you for being a part of these innovations in organic farming!
Thanks for reading if you made it this far! <3