The biggest challenge small and start-up produce farmers often have is maintaining the quality of their products. Globally, postharvest losses in agriculture can cost farmers up to 50 percent of their crop due to quality degradation caused by lack of cold storage.
Finding an affordable and convenient way to cool and maintain the quality of vegetables, fruits, flowers, and other locally produced perishable items such as cheeses, meats and beverages is now much easier with an innovative technology called the CoolBot. This “micro-controller” allows almost any brand of off-the-shelf air conditioner to transform a well-insulated room into a walk-in cooler. The CoolBot was created thanks to the persistence and ingenuity of small farmer Ron Khosla who, with his wife Kate, ran Huguenot Street Farm, a 250-family CSA operation in New Paltz, New York.
“We invented the CoolBot out of necessity. The idea of spending more than $5,000 for a used walk-in cooler was not appealing. We needed an affordable way to cool our produce in order to maximize its quality and lengthen shelf life both before marketing it and to give our customers more time to enjoy it after taking it home,” Khosla remembers. After several seasons of engineering experiments that still led to spoiled and less-than-fresh produce, the CoolBot was born.
“Before we built our own successful walk-in cooler, our crop losses and the extra labor to harvest and market vegetables cut into our potential profits,” Khosla explains. “The CoolBot offered a more economical upfront alternative to traditional, commercially available walk-in coolers. In addition, the large, less costly cooler allowed us to spread out our harvest, so a smaller staff could harvest and market more produce.
“It is very efficient, so it also saves electricity, reducing operating costs,” Khosla adds.
Results vary depending on the outside environment, the size of the insulated room and the size of the air conditioning unit, but as a general guide, an 18,000 BTU window A/C unit keeps produce in a 7-foot-by-12-foot insulated room at 38 degrees during the summer with plenty of cooling power to spare.
Now commercially available from Store It Cold, LLC, the patented technology of the CoolBot is helping locally grown and small vegetable and fruit producers, as well as brewers, hunters, florists, bars, restaurants, dairies, wineries and other small business owners solve their cooling needs.
For more information on Store It Cold and the CoolBot, visit www.storeitcold.com. The CoolBot is available for $315.