For Erik Sessions and Sara Peterson, who raise vegetables at Patchwork Green Farm near Decorah, their packhouse and root cellar are key pieces of their farm infrastructure.
The packhouse is where harvested produce is staged, sorted, washed and packed before heading to market, while the root cellar lets them store and sell certain crops for an extended time.
Both facilities play a big role in their farm’s efficiency and overall income – and to maintaining their standard of “selling vegetables that are exceptionally clean, neatly packed or bunched, appropriately chilled or cured, and taste wonderful.”
After dreaming for 15 years about a better packing facility and root cellar, they have upgraded both. While they are still figuring out how to best use these new facilities, they are already noticing many benefits of the improved designs.
Sessions and Peterson will share their experience with designing and using these improved tools at a Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) field day they are hosting 1-3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25, near Decorah (3031 Middle Hesper Rd., about 6 miles north of town).
The event -- “Packhouse Tour and Harvest Efficiency” -- is free to attend, and will feature hearty snacks after the program. RSVP for the food to lauren@practicalfarmers.org or 515-232-5661 by Thursday, Sept. 22. The field day is sponsored by the Center for Sustainable Communities at Luther College and Oneota Community Food Cooperative.
Attendees will tour the production area, and learn about the design and construction of both the packhouse and root cellar. Sessions and Peterson also will discuss packhouse equipment and flow; crop rotations; preferred crop varieties; as well as some of the strategies and equipment they use to increase harvest efficiency – such as machinery for potatoes and selected harvest methods.
When the couple moved to Decorah in 1997, they were market gardeners. After buying their 40-acre farm, they put five acres into annual vegetable production. Patchwork Green Farm’s fields are surrounded by restored prairie and oak woods, and the farm borders the heirloom production gardens of Seed Savers Exchange.
Directions from U.S. 52 in Decorah: Turn east onto Meadowlark Road. Go .75 mile and turn left (north) on Middle Hesper Road. After .75 mile, take the right fork to stay on Middle Hesper Road. The farm is on the left (northwest) side of the road, about one mile after the fork. ( Please park along the road and walk up to the house, where the field day starts. If walking up the hill is a challenge, accommodations can be made – contact Erik ahead of time or upon arrival.)

Improvement
“Upgrading our packhouse from a gravel floor to a concrete slab is a huge improvement,” Sessions said. “It’s easier to wash, there are no weeds, it’s always level and is much more sanitary. The building itself is bug- and mouse-proof for worry-free storage, and is a good place to keep tomatoes, garlic and crops that shouldn’t get too cold.
“Our root cellar is insulated concrete construction, with a washable interior. We installed a Coolbot system to cool it down and maintain temperatures between 35 and 40 degrees in fall and winter. Last winter, we were able to keep potatoes in good, saleable condition until they were sold out in late March.”
PFI’s 2016 field day season features 25 events around Iowa. Details are available at practicalfarmers.org.
PFI strengthens farms and communities through farmer-led investigation and information-sharing. Founded in 1985, farmers in our network raise corn, soybeans, livestock, hay, fruits and vegetables, and more.