“Harvesting has been done by hand for most of human history”.
On small organic farms like Sutton Community Farm with minimal mechanisation, harvesting is the most labor intense activity of the growing season. Most organic farms prefer to use volunteers workers to hand-pick the crops. The main advantage of using human labor to harvest the fields is the care people give by only picking ripe, healthy, right size vegetables using their knowledge, discernment and experience.
Many organic vegetables crops are highly perishable, and if not marketed when mature will quickly go to waste. Most small-scale sustainable organic producers, market their crops directly to the public at their farm gate, website, farmers markets, local restaurants, organic local grocery shops or through box schemes deliveries. Direct sales to the public also achieve higher prices that sales made through intermediaries.
Vegetable crops are demanding of both manual and managerial labor. To achieve acceptable quality many vegetables have to be harvested within a time window of only one or two days. Sufficient labor, equipment, transport and a market outlet must be available when needed in the right quantities.
Many factors contribute to vegetable quality, and visual appearance is generally the first factor. The shape, its colour, the way it looks, must be free of obvious defects, including cuts, bruises, decay or shrivelling. Firm texture like crispness is important in many crops like carrots and lettuce, while aroma plays a key role in attracting buyers of tomato and basil. Thankfully organic produce tends to store better and has longer shelf life than non organic produce, probably because organic vegetables have lower level of nitrates and higher level of antioxidants.
Post-harvest activities include harvesting, handling, storage, processing, packaging, transportation and marketing. Excellent management is needed in the post- harvest chain to avoid the problems in this area, to prevent the losses of horticultural produce.