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The Carrot Museum Visit to Edward Cook & Sons, Growers and Packers in St Helens, Lancashire




"You are only as good as your last bag of carrots"

 

John received a warm welcome at the premises of Edward Cook & Sons, Windle Hall Farm, St Helens in Lancashire,  a family farm which grows and supplies packed carrots to the wholesale markets nationwide, including food processing companies and local greengrocers shops.  The farm is approximately 950 acres of which about 220 acres are dedicated to carrot growing. Other crops include potatoes, sprouts, barley, winter wheat and spring beans.

The Company has been established since  xxxxxxx (DATE).   to read a brief company history click here. (XXXX) - page still in draft

The carrot packing crew show off their produce.

 ..... and that they have legs! ☺☺

Cooks Carrot Packing Staff

The season starts in earnest in July with harvest running from mid-July to early May.  A few "imported" Scottish carrots are bought in to supplement their our own crop at the end of the season. The company employs about 25 people and it is very much a whole family affair, with some of the workers being second generation employees!  Actually at one time there were three generations working on the premises at the same time  - Grandmother, Mother and Daughter!!

It is a 6 day a week operation, for about 42 weeks of the year. The remaining time is spent in sowing the carrot seeds and also maintenance and upgrading machinery and premises. 

Carrot Harvesting Machine

There are two basic harvesting systems in use, which have their different merits based on the crop and the time of year.

A Top Lifting harvester is used at the beginning from July-September where the carrots are plucked by the foliage.

The greens and carrots are separated by the machine leaving just the carrots to progress into the processing plant.  This method is the preferred option but weather conditions dictate which one is used.

Web Harvesters are used in the main part of the season (October-April) whilst it is predominantly wet.  They simply undercut and lift out the soil and carrots in one operation,  the harvester then eliminates the foliage and soil as part of the process.

Crops stay in the field throughout the winter, being covered in straw during the cold months to protect from frost.  Some carrots are grown on moss soil which are "soiled up"  which also acts as a protective blanket to guard against the frost.

Whichever method of harvesting is employed the carrot greens are recycled back into the soil.

The F1 hybrids varieties called Nigel and Maestro are grown for the top lifting crop. Then the main season carrots are split between the varieties called Nairobi and Maestro. All these varieties produce the larger type of carrots and are from the Nantes family.

Maestro is Nantes type carrot which is a good carrot fly resistant variety. Produces good shaped and strong roots. Also taste good!
Nigel is Nantes variety which is  versatile and high yielding. It has strong healthy upright foliage with uniform, bulky strong roots. Resistant to cracking and stores well.
Nairobi is a very versatile variety in that it can be used early or late in the season. It produces high yields of bulky very strong, robust roots, well suited to the pre-pack market.

Elsoms Seeds supply the company with the majority of the highest quality seeds which they use.

Here's a quick guided tour of the processes from delivery to despatch.

Freshly pulled carrots arrive from the field

Washed and Polished and moved to grading

Delivery of carrots   Carrot Washing and Polishing

Finger carrots being processed

 

Final hand sorting

Finger carrots being sorted   Hand sorting of carrots

On arrival at the plant the trucks off load their delivery into a washing machine which gives the carrots an initial wash and conveys the carrots on their processing journey and separates the soil into a container ready to be put back on the land.  Any remaining stones are also separated and even these are used to mend the farm roads!

The carrots are given a more thorough wash and polish before being run over a grader. A three way grading system is used.

Finger carrots which have their crowns totally removed by a slicing machine and are used for further processing in the catering trade e.g. for slicing and dicing.

Market Carrots are then manually graded on a conveyor belt before being hydro cooled and packed into bags and boxes ready for market.  About 20 per cent of the carrots are now sold in boxes as many wholesalers prefer these for ease of stacking and handling.Netted Carrot Bags

The third grade of the large carrots which are sold to the catering trade either as whole carrots or again with the tops removed. These are available either in nets, ton bags or in boxes supplied by particular processors.

Odd shaped or split carrots are netted up for pony feed. Some of the waste is sold in bulk as animal fodder.

It was surprising to see that there is very little waste produce and even that is sent off as animal fodder. This is mainly the tops from the finger carrots.

The market carrots are despatched across the nation to most major cities from Newcastle to Bristol, including the London markets. Local hauliers deliver the finished bags and boxes, normally with 24 hours of harvest.

With an average crop of over say 30 tons per acre being harvested annually, this equates to approximately  7500 tonnes of carrots going through the factory every year!

Bags being filled and then loaded onto pallets awaiting the despatch truck

Carrot Bagging

Carrots Bagging Machine

 

Above shows the stitching machine purchased with the assistance of European funding.

Carrots are pre-weighed into 28 pound (12.7 kg) units then bagged, stitched and ready for delivery.

 

Boxes and Bags Ready to go

Filled Carrot Boxes

Boxes and bags are available, depending on market requirements.

About 20 per cent of the carrots are now sold in boxes as many wholesalers prefer these for ease of stacking and handling.

Carrot Bags awaiting delivery

 

European Funding

The company has benefited from several European Funding initiatives through the Integrated Countryside and Environment Plan (ICEP) which acts as a facilitator for Objective 1 funding in rural areas on Merseyside.

This funding has enabled Cooks to be assisted in the purchase of a new carrot polishing machine,  refrigeration equipment, and a bag stitcher unit. They have also been fortunate to have funding for a new building for grain storage and sprout grading line and pre-packing machine.

While representing only a very small part of overall investment in the family business, grant aid from Europe to purchase new and more modern vegetable packing equipment has enabled Cooks  to meet the latest market requirements. Most importantly this has enabled the company to retain all of its work force in the packing sheds.

A 40 per cent grant towards these capital items is given.

Bags

A few examples of the packaging used by the company.

Bag for strawed carrots

Cook's Carrot Bag

Bag for polished carrots

 

 

Should you require any more information about Cook's produce you can e-mail them at  cookscarrots@btinternet.com.


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