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This article originally appeared in the March 2020 issue of Growing for Market Magazine.
I’m a sucker for carts, as some of you might guess, having designed a few versions myself. Reid Allaway of Tourne-Sol Cooperative Farm in Québec, Canada, tagged a number of excellent tools with #toolsforgrowingformarket and his Tall Straddle Cart caught my attention as a unique design I hadn’t seen before but that looked, and sounded useful. I picked it as the first tool from another farmer to highlight in this new column.
Like many of the tools I’ve built myself, Reid didn’t actually come up with the concept himself, it’s something that he got from another market farmer in Québec, Michel Massuard. At Tourne-Sol they’ve found the cart useful enough that they’ve needed to build two of them. It is also a tool that Reid continues to tinker with, making small improvements over time.
The initial impetus for the cart design was hauling zucchini and summer squash out of beds that are more than 100 feet long. By hand this is a heavy and slow job but the cart makes the job much more reasonable. The load is primarily supported by a single wheel in the pathway where the harvester works.
In front of and behind the wheel are platforms made from a bit of angle iron to hold harvest totes. Under each of the platforms are skids that keep the cart from tipping too far forward or back, but the skids are a few inches off the ground when it is rolled along by either pushing or pulling a handle attached to the front platform. A second wheel acts as an outrigger to keep the cart from tipping over sideways and that wheel is attached with a kind of bridge that is high enough to comfortably clear a full-sized summer squash plant.
Reid made the frame of the cart from salvaged 1” steel square tube and scraps of flat stock and rebar. The only other parts are two bicycle wheels. Their cart was just upgraded to use one 4” fat tire (slightly modified) on the load bearing wheel, and a narrower mountain bike front wheel on the outrigger side. The previous version used two salvaged mountain bike front wheels and regularly handled loads of 300 pounds with no structural failures. The whole thing was put together using a welder (MIG, but any welder would work) and an angle grinder.
In practice on the farm the carts get used for summer squash and lettuce harvests. For summer squash harvests, empty totes are dropped at regular intervals and then filled and left in the aisle. The cart is then rolled down the bed and harvest totes are stacked, evenly front to back, up to five high for a total of ten in a single load.
Lettuce is harvested similarly to the summer squash, with totes being pre-dropped and then collected when they are full. The lettuce totes are a little taller, so they are stacked a maximum of four high for a total of eight, with one particularly bold harvester sometimes adding a ninth tote to the stack nearest to him. The problem with overloading the cart is less about weight, and more that tall stacks become unstable, especially traveling over bumpy ground.
One problem with the cart is that the load carrying wheel is centered with the load and so with large loads on bumpy terrain sometimes the counterweight of the outrigger wheel isn’t enough to keep the load from tipping away from the outrigger. To solve this problem Reid has added extra weight to the outrigger, but he suggests that it might work to move the load bearing wheel further outboard to line up with the outer edge of the totes. The carts also have a minimal rebar wire frame helping prevent tote stacks from tipping inward when traveling over bumpy ground, and this too might be better placed on the outside rather than the inside.
In my conversation with Reid about his cart we also talked a bit about his involvement with the CAPÉ Autoconstruction project. The CAPÉ is an agricultural cooperative serving direct-marketing farms. The Autoconstruction (self-build or DIY) group is modeled after a similar French enterprise called L’Atelier Paysan.
Both of these projects bring together groups of farmers to build farm equipment in batches, for themselves, sharing basic fabrication tools, skills and designs, and creating stronger networks among regional growers. The CAPÉ Autoconstruction has been running winter workshops for six years now and L’Atelier Paysan formally organized in 2011. Both of these organizations are primarily French speaking, but they also both have forums on Facebook that are auto-translated and Reid tells me that questions in English are welcome.
Josh Volk farms in Portland, Oregon, and does consulting and education under the name Slow Hand Farm. He is the author of the book Compact Farms: 15 Proven Plans for Market Farms on 5 Acres or Less, available from Growing for Market. He can be found at SlowHandFarm.com.