Making seconds count


NC’s prototype of commercial scale strawberry steam-juicer

This coming strawberry season, Meadow Lynn Farms is set to quadruple its strawberry juice concentrate output, thanks in part to getting design expertise on their innovative steam-juicer from NC’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) team.

Based in Simcoe, Ont., Meadow Lynn Farms, has been a family-owned business for 73 years. Besides grain crops, vegetables and purebred jersey cattle, the Judd family operate a 7.5-acre strawberry field, utilizing both pick-your-own and road-side sales.

Co-owner Sharon Judd’s goal was to capture a niche market for the thousands of pounds of wasted seconds (imperfect, under-or over-ripe berries). After experimenting successfully with a stovetop steamer to condense the berries into a juice concentrate, Judd designed a larger unit and had a local fabricator build it.

Besides making several products to sell at the farm, including jelly and syrup, Judd expanded to other markets, selling the seed and pulp-free juice to local wineries for hard cider and micro-breweries, including St. Catharines’ Merchant Ale House, which now includes the aptly named Strawberry Blonde Radler on its regular brew menu.

“Still, the capacity was not enough for the market demand and I was still diverting about 2,000 pounds of strawberry seconds to a neighbouring farm for them to puree,” says Judd. She soon realized the need for a commercial-scale steam juicer, something that didn’t yet exist anywhere, and turned to the WAMIC team for their design know-how.

The research team tackled the mechanical challenges that came along with increasing the volume of the juicer. Utilizing their engineering expertise, the WAMIC team implemented a water make-up system, designed a practical and safe way to handle the hot mash once steamed, and made refinements to the fruit container to improve overall steaming of the berries while increasing efficiency.

WAMIC’s work, and thanks to support received through the Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI), a Niagara-College-led consortium funded by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), has allowed Judd to now prepare for four times the output (from 100 pails of frozen juice to 400) and hire more staff.

“This collaboration has been marvellous,” says Judd. “There was no way this was going to move forward without these problems being solved.”

She’s also in talks with co-packers for more specialized product and, after requests from farmers to rent her unit, she is exploring the marketplace for the possibility of mass manufacturing the juicer for commercial use.

To learn more about WAMIC projects, visit the website.