Until last year, as much as half of Bill Lee's jalapeño pepper crop was wasted. Peppers that didn't meet the peak-quality demands of the fresh-produce market were thrown away or never picked. But not anymore.
With help from the University of Georgia and part of a $120,000
grant from the Governor's Development Office, Lee built a small
food-processing facility on his farm.
The facility allowed him to turn his unmarketable fresh peppers
into a brine jalapeño product. The brine peppers can later
be used in other products, such as sauces.
Most important, Lee said, a part of the crop he would otherwise
have to abandon can now make him some money.
"It's a lot better than just throwing them away," said
Lee, who has farmed more than 35 years near Adel, Ga.
Wasted in the Fields
Because they can't be sold to fresh markets, many of the
grown in Georgia are never harvested. Most Georgia-grown
are targeted for fresh-produce markets. These markets demand the
highest quality produce.
However, as the harvest progresses, the quality of the crop often
declines. Though the taste is good, it looks less appealing, and
the fresh-produce market passes on buying it.
"Georgia is vying for third place in the nation in vegetable
production," said Estes Reynolds. He coordinates the
Outreach Programs of the University of Georgia Food Processing
Research and Development Lab.
"We'll have to find alternatives," Reynolds said,
the portion of the crop that doesn't meet fresh-market
Lee's processing facility, built next to his packing shed, is
about the size of a two-car garage.
Specifications, quality standards, processing requirements and
established procedures for field handling, sanitation,
processing and packaging were developed for the facility. All
aspects of the facility meet Georgia Department of Agriculture
and Food and Drug Administration requirements, Reynolds said.
Now, Lee picks the peppers he'd normally leave in the field after
the fresh-produce market has passed. Last year, he also bought
unmarketable peppers from four other local farmers.
The peppers are sorted by quality and bathed in a chlorine-water
solution. They're taken into the facility then and chopped into
slices. The sliced jalapeños are then combined with a
made of salt, water and vinegar.
The peppers are packed into large barrels, each containing 200
pounds of peppers and 86 pounds of brine. At full capacity, the
facility can produce 65 barrels a day.
After packing, the peppers are ready to become future ingredients
in other products. The peppers on Lee's farm were sold to a
company in Atlanta, Ga.
It sounds easy. But it took time to get the processing right.
"Like anything else new, it was a learning process,"
Lee said. "We had some headaches with it early, getting
down right. But now we know what we're doing and are ready for
the crop to come in this year."
Reynolds said a facility like the one on Lee's farm could be
to include other vegetable and fruit crops.
"I'm looking at the possibility of doing something with
bell peppers and fruit crops," he said. For example, a
and market could be developed to handle overripe peaches.
Lee says he's looking at his farm in a new way. If fresh-produce
market prices fall too low, he said, he can simply crank up his
food processing facility. He may even grow crops for the direct
purpose of processing on his farm.
"It gives us another choice now on what we can do,"
Published on 01/22/01
On-farm Facility Adds Value to Veggie Crop
Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
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