Washing Greens Efficiently

September 27, 2021
With support from SARE, Mad Farmers Collective built a new greens washing station that improved productivity, ergonomics, and efficiency.

From our Newsletter

This story appears in the Summer 2021 issue of the NCR-SARE newsletter, Field Notes.

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Mad Farmers Collective is a small but highly productive urban market farm located in downtown Indianapolis. They process about 200 pounds of salad greens for farmers market customers and 5-10 local restaurants each week. A few years ago, they decided their greens production wasn’t as sustainable as it could be. It was time-consuming and physically taxing, and the salad greens got in the way when other crops needed to be cleaned.

“One of the surest ways for a farm to realize the full financial benefits of salad green production is to ensure that the entire process is pursued as efficiently as possible,” said Mad Farmers Collective farmer Matthew Jose. “Even if the bed preparation, crop care, and harvesting are completed easily and quickly, it is easy for those efficiencies to be lost in the processing stage. The harvest tote might be incorrectly sized for the task, small-batch washing might be too time-consuming, and the resources devoted to salad green processing might negatively impact the processing of other crops.”

Building a New Greens Washing Station

Jose and the Mad Farmers Collective wanted to design a low-cost, efficient greens processing system to share with other small-scale farmers. With support from a $6,210 NCR-SARE Farmer Rancher grant, they built a new salad greens-specific wash area that works for spinach, arugula, lettuce mix, and baby mustards/Asian greens. 

  • They built a new wash station shelter using flexible, double-walled greenhouse plastic for the structure and landscape fabric and gravel for ground covering.
  • They built tables for storing harvested greens and recently washed/dried greens. 
  • They purchased a greens bubbler tutorial from Dry Your Greens and modified the plan slightly using a 100 gallon Rubbermaid structural foam stock tank. A 1 hp blower from an online jacuzzi supply blows air through a PVC tube system for circulation. An industrial sink drain and an attached flexible drain pipe direct water away from the wash station.
  • The greens are transferred from the bubbler to orange fish baskets with a basic pool skimmer. Two pounds of greens can be put into the basket at a time. The greens drip-dry in the basket for several minutes before the basket (with greens still inside) is placed into a converted washing machine used for drying.
  • They purchased the materials for a washing machine conversion from Dry Your Greens to create a greens spinner. They used a Whirlpool Cabrio model and mentioned that it is critical to use a washing machine model that meets the specifications referenced in the tutorial. Greens spin for 2 minutes and are poured into a clean tote. Jose noted that many pieces of hardware that came with the kit weren’t used, and in hindsight, he would have just purchased the tutorial and, from there, figured out what specific pieces were needed for the washing machine conversion.
  • Jose suggests that growers think through the physical placement of all of the various pieces, saying, “Spending the time up-front to figure out the flow of movement, material storage, and drainage considerations will nearly always (in my opinion) result in a better-designed wash/pack area.” 

Mad Farmers Collective has been pleased with the new system reporting that it has cut the washing/drying time nearly in half. The new system allows for increased production. The ergonomics of the new wash station have also improved. 

“One of the unexpected improvements that came about with these wash station improvements was the ability to multi-task,” said Jose. “The fact that both the bubbler and the spinner are set on timers allows the operator to start the process and attend to another task in the wash station while the greens are bubbling or spinning. This unexpected improvement has increased the efficiency of the wash station. Fewer people are needed to process the vegetables as they come in from the field, and there is less overall time spent in the wash station, as tasks can be stacked and attended to at the same time.”

Want more information? See the related SARE grant:

Topics: Food Processing Facilities, Greens (Lettuces)
Related Locations: Indiana, North Central