Pooh Talks: longer days - the wintry arrival of Spring - our new casino (i mean, er vegetable pack house) and how it will change all of our lives, but really and truly it will save all our backs

Spring is here(sort of), and long gone is the quiet of the dead of winter where the only sound  is the kettle on the wood stove… and someone ticking away on a computer keyboard. Step outside the kitchen door today and there is the ambient droning noise of greenhouse air circulating fans and furnaces firing merrily. Six greenhouses are fired up on line and  there will be four more by St. Patrick’s Day. The core crew is back slogging away in high rubber boots in the mud and snow between greenhouses and barns;  the unwanted remains of an unwanted noreaster that dumped 18 inches of heavy snow on us last week. But the exciting news for us is that the barn building crew from Ag Structures came on site last week and is putting up a barn frame. They are, like us, slogging unceremoniously through the unwanted snow, mud and somewhat winter like weather. But it’s happening, and the reality of it happening is rather exciting . It has drawn a lot of interest.


I posted this picture on Facebook. The regular collection of wise asses and hecklers posted on my timeline: “ What is its’ intended use, Mr. Sprague? Have you created a venue large enough for a stage and dance-floor  for your musical endeavors such that you will not have to drive anywhere at night in your Golden Years?” Someone else speculated that Ray and Mike were moving away from vegetable production by opening a casino and bordello. Perhaps from a financial perspective that’s not a bad idea, and perhaps not a hard sell especially if they included the small music venue for me and my bummy friends..…

But it is really going to be a barn. It’s a pretty big barn: 94 x 50 with 14 foot walls and a pitched roof. It will not go unnoticed. We have described it as a vegetable storage, wash and packaging  barn, designed primarily for handling fresh produce. It is a structure that has been discussed for several years because of its size and cost, but also discussing how it would be laid out to serve solve as many problems and needs that we now have.

Foremost, it replaces our current packing and storage area which we clearly have outgrown. Our wholesale enterprise has grown to be a larger component of our sales. In the height of our production season Ray has now run out of floor space as well as cooler space for produce.  Crops frequently either don’t get harvested or stored in a timely or appropriate way. Space was so tight in the old area that it resembled a vegetable maze. Efficiencies will be gained there, as well as the new barn giving us a truck loading dock so that peoples’ backs will be saved. Repetitive injury is a big concern here. We lift and package produce generally in containers that weigh nominally between 30 and 45 lbs. But we handle a lot of those containers from the end of July to the first of the year, and sometimes each packed container gets lifted, moved, and stacked 3-4 times before it ends up in someone elses’ cooler. I don’t feel the scar tissue I wear  on my back in my lumbar region is a badge of honor that any of my employees needs to earn in their tenure here, so ergonomic efficiencies are important. The new barn will address many of the food safety upgrades that we would be forced to deal with while implementing the FSMA mandates as dictated by the FDA. More washable surfaces, a new wash lines as well as improved post handling refrigeration for the produce. It is an expensive and sizeable pill to swallow, but we should be “good to go” for many years for having swallowed it.

It was 18 degrees last night.  The government had us set our clocks  forward yesterday, so the work days just got longer. The carpenters are here firing up the man-lifts and putting plywood on the sides. It maybe crunchy underfoot, and they maybe forecasting light snow tomorrow, but it sure feels like spring is about to be sprung. And it feels like we are off to the races…..again…