By Brenna Goggin, Environmental Advocate
When standing in the frozen vegetable aisle of the grocery store, do you ever wonder where those vegetables came from and how they got into that bag? Delaware Nature Society members found this out out on a Delaware Agriculture Tour, Saturday September 19th. Anna Stoops, New Castle County Cooperative Extension agent and I led this exciting farm tour in New Castle and Kent Counties. The first stop on the tour was the Hanover Foods vegetable processing plant in Clayton, Delaware which processes those frozen vegetables and entrees you find in your local grocery stores. While visiting the plant, we were able to experience first hand, the extensive process veggies must go through before they come to your dinner table.
Step 1: Farms across Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania contract with Hanover foods to grow lima beans, corn, spinach and other delicious veggies. Once ripe, these veggies are picked by the Hanover “picker” department (yes, such a department exists) and driven in Hanover trucks to Clayton. On average, 300,000-400,000lbs of lima beans are delivered per day to the plant (when in season). Spinach is the only exception as it is picked by the actual farmer instead of a Hanover picker.
Step 2: Once delivered, the veggies (in our case we got to see lima beans) are taken off the truck and onto conveyor belts where they are first sorted by employees handling brooms which will separate the stems, dirt, and other debris found on the beans from the actual bean itself.
Bill Simpson, plant manager of Hanover foods in Clayton, DE, explains the process of lima bean cleaning and sorting.
Step 3: The beans are then pushed through water for their first cleaning. Right after they are cleaned for the first time, there is a sorter system containing salt water. This salt water system separates green lima beans (they sink to the bottom in salt water) and white lima beans (which float to the top) into two separate piles.
Step 4: The beans are again cleaned, sorted through by another set of employees and sent through an optical device which can “see” the bean and determine if it is rotten, unripe, or not a bean at all and sort it again.
Step 5: After yet another cleaning and sorting process (where now the employees are using their hands to pick out any left over debris), the lima beans are put in a freezer kept on average at -29 below for 10-12 minutes. They are shifted again and examined by-hand before they are boxed and shipped out of the plant.
As you can tell, your lima beans, corn, and spinach were well taken care of by the good people at Hanover before being sold at the local Giant or Acme. While it was hard to top the mind-boggling experience at Hanover, the rest of the trip was a terrific learning experience for everyone. The group stopped briefly at Fifer Orchards in Wyoming, Delaware to experience their oh-so-delicious apples and apple cider and then ate a scrumptious lunch at Blackbird State Forest. Kent County Forester Bill Seybold gave a wonderful presentation on the creation of Delaware State Forests and took us on an informative tree identification walk. We finished our the day with a stop at Woodside Creamery for a tour of the facilities and some yummy ice cream. All-in-all the day was exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. However, we learned an important lesson in humility and gratitude for our local farmers who work 365 days a year without a weekend, spring break, or summer vacation.
Kent County Forester, Bill Seybold, identifies a variety of trees in Blackbird State Forest.
In a State that has seen a dramatic increase in development, this tour enlightened us to the critical need to preserve our precious farmland so that future generations will also have access to locally grown food in their grocery stores. Despite the current economic crisis, the Delaware Nature Society feels it is important to continue to advocate for increased funding for farmland preservation.
If you are interested in helping DNS seek increased funding related to farmland preservation or would like to become more involved in our advocacy program, sign up for our “Voice It!” alerts by going to http://www.delawarenaturesociety.org/advocacy.html.
Photos by: Anna Stoops, New Castle County Cooperative Extension Agent