Harvesting Tomatoes at ICF: Now We Have a Trolley

Jill Rotondo, greenhouse manager, describes our new tool for harvesting over 6 tons of tomatoes.

This winter we schemed about how to improve the efficiency of our greenhouse tomato harvest process.  The harvest window is long (three and half-months) and the task is hard on our bodies as well as time-consuming.  For example, we might use five crew to harvest, each person filing one or two trays at a time, and then walking the length of the house to set the heavy trays down on a truck.  On any given day in August, we might harvest 45 to 50 trays this way.  From July to October, we harvest about 12,500 pounds of tomatoes from each of the two houses; this is the equivalent of about 850 trays.

We dreamed of a hanging trolly that would travel the length of the house, carrying the weight for us.  We pictured three overhead rails running down the pathways of the house between tomato rows.  The cart itself would have two shelves, one to receive the harvest and another full of empty trays ready for use.  The hanging cart would need to be light enough for two people to lift and move from one track to another.  

We began with the overhead rail.  Dry cleaners use a similar rail system and some farmers have used it for moving plants in a propagation house.  We installed special brackets to the collar ties on which we attached fencing posts to serve as the rail.  Next, we designed our dream cart.  The folks at Giroux’s fabricated the cart just the way we wanted it and it arrived in plenty of time for the first tomato harvest.  It hangs from the rail on four roller wheels and slides down the row with little effort.  

We have now begun using the cart to harvest the tomatoes you eat every week!  Now, just two people harvest with the hanging cart, each filling trays from the rows on either side.  When full, the cart carries up to 14 full trays weighing nearly 300 pounds.  At the end of the house, the cart can be unloaded directly into the truck without us ever having to carry the heavy trays over distance, and then the cart gets moved over to the next row.  We save time and a lot of effort with this new cart.  Every time, we revel in the latest efficiency upgrade at the farm!