stacked standard containers

Standard containers save time and storage space

By Marcia Miquelon, Outreach Specialist
UW Madison Healthy Farmers, Healthy Profits Project

Press release | Tip sheet

Since 1996, Jenny Bonde and Rink DaVee have been growing 3 acres of assorted vegetables for restaurants, farmers markets and about 30 CSA subscribers in southwest Wisconsin. In the beginning, they used a variety of containers such as bushel baskets, wooden packing crates, plastic buckets and waxed cardboard boxes to transport their produce. "With so many oddly shaped containers it was hard to pack the truck or fill the cooler efficiently," Bonde recalls. "The bottoms of cardboard boxes would sometimes break out, and produce at the bottom of five-gallon buckets could be crushed."

Additionally, these non-uniform containers were awkward to carry and hard to sanitize. When they started using standard-sized, rectangular molded plastic containers, these problems were solved.

"Standard containers are just so much easier," Bonde claims. Durable, versatile, easy to carry, stack and sanitize, standard containers result in faster harvest and handling, less stress and strain from awkward carrying, and easier monitoring of crop yields. At a cost of about $5-$10 apiece, standard containers offer long-term savings by making harvest and transport more efficient.

Barb and Dave Perkins, who grow about 15 acres of vegetables and berries for CSA subscribers, agree. "They're logical and practical," Barb says, explaining why they chose to purchase standard containers. "We pack 550 CSA shares in about 2 hours, so it's important that things be orderly and organized." The Perkins' use standard containers in tandem with a narrow pallet system to roll produce from the field or wash station to the cooler, and from the cooler to the packing line. Since the narrow pallets have the same size footprint as the containers do, the load is stable and easy to maneuver.

Perkins also recommends looking for secondhand plastic bulb crates, which are shallower than most commercially available standard containers, and are thus suitable for fragile, heavy crops such as tomatoes and summer squash. A by-product of the flower industry, they may be available at low cost or free. Check the yellow pages or the Internet for a flower bulb importer in your area.

Many package and farm supply companies carry standard containers. Look for ads in this and other grower publications for sources. Considering their many benefits, standard containers seem like an efficient investment.

Durable. Standard plastic containers, particularly those that are UV stable, will last for many years, offsetting the initial cost.

Easy to carry. Standard containers have sturdy molded handles, making them easy to work with. By comparison, bushel baskets, buckets, and crates are often missing handles or have poorly designed handles that make them difficult to carry. In addition, rectangular or square containers place the center of gravity closer to your body than do round containers, reducing the load and strain on your body.

Multi-purpose. Standard containers can be used to wash and drain produce as well as for transport. Some containers have rounded bottoms so they can be pulled along as harvest "sleds" in the field or used as wash basins in the packing shed.

Easy to clean. You can help prevent the spread of plant disease by regularly washing plastic containers. When cleaning containers, be sure to sanitize al surfaces-both inside and out. Do not place containers on the soil to dry, and do not stack cleaned containers if they have been in contact with soil.

Save time. Since containers are stackable, you can increase efficiency by limiting the number of times you have to stoop to pick up containers. You can also save field time by tossing empty containers to strategic places along the row.

Reduce crop loss. Containers that fit the size and weight of your produce may improve harvested crop quality since less loss will occur from damage.

Monitor crop yield easily. Knowing how much produce fits in one container simplifies estimating crop yield. When every container is a different size, yield estimates become more time consuming and less accurate.

Easy to transport. Standard containers can be stacked on narrow ('half") pallets or full-sized pallets and then entire pallet loads can be moved with a hand truck or hydraulic pallet jack.

Easy to store. Many standard containers are designed to nest when not in use, to save storage space.

For more information about standard containers and other work efficiency tools, contact the Healthy Farmers, Healthy Profits project at the University of Wisconsin, Madison: (608) 262-1054, or visit their web site at

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