Primarily, you want to harvest no later than the day before the produce will be sold and/or used. This ensures the highest concentrations of nutrients, flavors, and turgidity.
After harvesting, the first thing you need to do to keep leaves stiff and bright colors bright, is put them in cool or cold water. This will slow down any degradation of flavor, color, or water retention.
Once in the water, you are going to have to hand pick all the lower quality produce out and any other unwanted items (chunks of dirt, insects, grass, weeds, etc.) This extra time will increase the quality and ensure a good reputation at any markets, restaurants, or in my case a cafeteria. The most important aspect of any organic farm or venture is to produce an outstanding and consistent reputation.
We use a 3 bin system where the first one holds all the vegetables until they can be processed. The next two are visual inspection stations that, when I get the students out, use two people to get four sets of eyes on your produce. Down at the end is our drying rack and spin dry station where produce either is air-dried or spun dry using a lettuce spinner. This also provides a visual inspection point to take off any broken stems or take out any greens that somehow made it through the other stations. (My motto: If you have any question of quality, it isn’t good enough. Chunk it.)
Finally, is the weighing station where produce is weighed, rubber-banded, and bagged. You could weigh and bag at the market, but I have found that people are “package” buyers. People are more likely to purchase something if it is already packaged and ready to go.
These are being bunched with wide rubber bands as they are less likely to break when stretching over the roots. After everything is bunched up and bagged, the next step is to ice them down if you are going to a market where they will be sitting for a while, or deliver them directly to your restaurant or cafeteria where you know they will be put in a walk-in refrigerator or some other cold environment.
(Note: I have found that lettuce and spinach if sealed and then placed on ice will begin to condense and fog up the bag. Not good for presentation. A remedy is to only seal a partial amount of the bag when placing on ice. Works out.)
That’s it. Each situation is different and you will learn a lot just by going and watching other successful vendors market their produce and engage customers. You don’t have to have a great sales pitch if you present yourself well and have excellent produce. They will sell themselves. (Note: It doesn’t hurt to have a sign or banner as well at markets. People again are more likely drawn to a stand with a professional and clean look. People are comforted in labels (organic, goTexan, certified, local, sustainable, business, etc.) Don’t just put them on your sign though, you need to embody them or after a purchase or two, people will catch on and go somewhere else.
Well Back to the Farm,
P.S. Thanks to the environment club from IDEA Donna College Prep for helping me get ready for the markets. Something that would take me most of the day was done in 2 hours.