Engineering a New Food System

It’s a pleasure to be invited to write a post for the New Farmer Project Blog. When I heard last Spring that UVM Extension was seeking an Agricultural Engineer it signaled a real commitment to Vermont agriculture and our food systems to me. Since serving in this role, I have been asked to support Vermont’s food systems through education and outreach programs focused on analysis, design, evaluation and adoption of infrastructure, technology and equipment that meets the needs of food producers and processors.

My initial work has been focused on energy considerations in covered growing (e.g. greenhouses and high tunnels) and post-harvest processing and storage. In both cases, I have had many inquiries from new farmers (and many seasoned farmers as well.)

Biomass boiler with ground heating at Riverberry Farm (Fairfax, VT)

COVERED GROWING – Many of the folks I talk with are building their first greenhouse or high tunnel or are adding to their existing set of houses. Vern Grubinger and I compiled a report on biomass heating in greenhouses several years back which may be helpful.  Also, it is a great time of year to assess on your houses using a greenhouse audit checklist. Lastly, stay tuned for news of NOFA-VT’s upcoming greenhouse tour which I’ll be assisting with (March 13,  March 20, March 27 & April 3).

COLD STORAGE – I have had lots of inquiries about options for cool and cold storage for vegetables. I had the pleasure of joining the Vermont Vegetable and Berry Grower’s Association last month for their annual meeting.  This event was packed with presentations ranging from the latest pests to farmer outreach in distant lands. My presentation covered cold storage and some best practices. I’ll be teaming up with ACoRN and Ginger Nickerson from the UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture in Middlebury on April 2 for a workshop on cold storage and in Monkton on April 11 for a Practical Produce Safety workshop. Ginger has a great list of resources on food safety as well.

Meat curing room control tuning support at Mad River Food Hub

GENERAL ENGINEERING SUPPORT – I also have recently received several questions about livestock and poultry ventilation needs and have been guiding farmers through sizing ventilation fans and sorting out controls. Another area of interesting work has been in the nascent food hub sector related to a variety of processing needs.

ENERGY IN THE FOOD SYSTEM – I’ll write more on this in a future post, but another area of research relates to how we fuel our food systems and how effectively we operate them. Some initial thoughts on this topic can be found on my blog, and I welcome input on this topic. As part of the Farm to Plate Energy Cross Cutting Team I’m very interested in what producers think about energy and waste.

In summary, I look forward to meeting more of you and hearing about the challenges you face that extension work may help resolve. Feel free to phone (802-773-3349), email:, and/or signup for my eNewsletter to stay in touch, but I’d also really like to meet you in person on your farm or at a future event.

About chriscallahanuvmageng

Chris Callahan is the Extension Agricultural Engineer at the University of Vermont. His work focuses on enhancing Vermont's Food Systems supporting the analysis, design, evaluation and adoption of infrastructure and equipment that meets the needs of relatively small-scale food producers and processors. Chris enjoys working closely with farmers and others on multi-disciplinary projects that deliver practical, cost effective, safe and sustainable results.
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1 Response to Engineering a New Food System

  1. Garland Mason says:

    Reblogged this on What's Growin' On.

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