Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Cool Idea Becomes Reality

       One of the things we at Foodscapes like to do is find solutions to problems that affect our local farmers and community gardens. Then, if the solution is truly useful, we’ll find ways to replicate the solution to help as many folks as possible.

The Problem Opportunity
            The CASA garden produces a fair amount of food, particularly during the summer growing season. The food grown at the CASA garden and the Botanical Gardens demonstration vegetable garden by the Tri-County Master gardeners is then DELIVERED to the senior clients. To keep the produce fresh, volunteers have had to deliver at least 3 days a week, with a large amount of staff time used to plan routes and coordinate distribution all over Madison County. Hundreds of home bound seniors supplement their nutrition from this effort. Besides time, fuel prices are cutting into the base of willing volunteers who deliver to CASA clients.

The Solution
       The ability to deliver food only once or twice a week would reduce rising fuel costs for volunteers, reduce office staff planning and involvement as well as overtime for Saturday oversight. We suggested a walk-in cooler on site to keep the produce fresh. Ann Anderson, Executive Director of CASA, immediately saw the benefits. Produce coolers of any size are expensive unless you can find one very used which probably means it is power hungry, inefficient and may need repairs fairly often. Occasionally a cooler can be bought as surplus from a failed restaurant or closed school. There seem to be more farmers needing produce coolers than surplus coolers.
      We recommended the Cool Bot System The Cool Bot uses an LG window air conditioner to cool a highly insulated shed so the CASA garden can now store food gathered throughout the week for delivery 1 to 2 x per week.

         One of CASA's outstanding volunteers, Chester Domaracki agreed to tackle the project. Using a donated 8' by 10' shed Chester created the working unit during the month of June.

        CASA purchased a 12000 BTU LG window air conditioner. Chester and I insulated under the shed first, doubling 2” sheets of insulation to create a 4” layer of insulation under the floor. We used this technique and thickness for the rest of the project as well.

Chester also installed a really nice tile floor, a floor drain and he covered the wall and ceiling insulation with a 1/4” water proof material used in showers and bath rooms so the storage unit would be easy to keep clean with a good rinsing on occasion.

Here's the AC unit with CoolBot attached and keeping it COLD!
 Total costs for the “high end” Cool Bot produce cooler came in around $2200. If we had to buy the shed ,the project would have run $3000. Compared to

we think this is viable, replicable alternative for small acreage, high value crop farmers or small groups of farmers in a community, as well as urban farmers and larger community gardens. Cost savings may be found by building a shed around the insulation panels, or using a technique involving “SIPs” panels which interlock and have 8'' -12'' of styrofoam insulation between 2 exterior panels. The panels interlock and can be utilized to create a floor, the sides, and the roof of the unit. I am told by folks familiar with the technique that a storage unit of this size could be assembled in 4 hours or so. Such a unit would have a much greater R value as well.

              A huge THANK YOU to Ann Anderson the executive director at CASA for her willingness to underwrite this project.  I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank all the volunteers through the years who have made this garden possible.  They truly come from all walks of life to work together to provide fresh, nutritious food to CASA clients and fulfill CASA's mission is to help the home bound elderly age in place as long as possible.  A large produce cooler buys a farmer and a community garden time. Time is the one commodity that is always in short supply.

Please consider volunteering with CASA,
we have many opportunities for you to serve,
no matter your skill level or time available.  Check out the possibilities here.

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