"As my dad says, if you can afford to do it over, you can afford to do it right," says Adair Chambers, who has run the operations at Chambers Brothers Farms since 1993.

Her father Jim founded the blueberry business in 1978. And thanks to a new, innovative cooling system, blueberry farmers from across the United States have made the pilgrimage to Homerville, GA, to see how they do it.

Good Berries Don't Sweat

In the early days of blueberry production, a simple lean-to shed was used to store and pack the fruit after picking. Although more sophisticated than a lean-to, Chambers' packing shed, equipped with a traditional air conditioning system, was not enough to keep the berries looking and tasting their freshest.

"It's important to keep the temperature of the packing area really low and as constant as possible, but it's also important to be able to control the humidity," says Jim Chambers. "If a berry is cooled in too much humidity, it sweats. This makes the berry deteriorate. Being able to control the humidity cuts down on ruined berries."

Father and daughter decided to build a new shed.

The first step was to build a larger packing shed with better insulation. Then, to keep this new shed properly cooled to the ideal temperature of 65?F, Jim Chambers went to John Wilkes at Always There Air Refrigeration (Homerville, GA). Wilkes then consulted with Larry Pittman, a service center manager with Baker Distributing Co. (Brunswick, GA). The two agreed to recommend a Beacon Refrigeration System from Heatcraft (Stone Mountain, GA).

"I had never sold a Beacon before," Pittman says, "but it seemed that it and this application were made for each other."

He cites the system's solid-state control board, which is mounted on the evaporator and also contains the room temperature thermostat and defrost controller, as a major factor. "The control board can be set for operation with single or multiple evaporators," he says, "which was relevant to the building's needs."

Coils Snd Cooling

With that decision made, Pittman joined Ron Andrews, a sales rep for Heatcraft's Larkin line.

Looking at the basic load of the building and the product load, the two calculated the refrigeration requirements and determined that three separate systems provided the best redundant capacity. One unit is constantly cooling. The other two cycle on only if the room's temperature rises, turning themselves off automatically.

"All commercial buildings have an energy demand," Pittman explains. "With multiple units there are fewer startups, a decreased demand, and a less urgent draw on the building for running the units."

In addition, "Jim was concerned about humidity, so coil selection was critical." They chose medium airflow coils because they generate less noise than warehouse coils, an important factor to make the building's environment suitable for workers.

Pittman also chose to maintain a 10?F difference between coil and room temperature. That margin ensures that the coil does not meet the dewpoint, which would cause condensation to form on the coil and dehumidify the room.

Wilkes installed three 5-hp Larkin condensing units and three medium-profile unit coolers. "I basically turned a huge building into a walk-in cooler," he explains.

Ripe For Growth

The Chambers family is enjoying the fruits of that labor. The new system "does a much faster, better job than what we had in the old building," says Chambers.

The new system also may enable future expansion. Currently, Chambers Brothers sends its berries out to be processed for the frozen sales portion of its market. With the new technology, says Adair Chambers, a processing line could be installed someday to bring that aspect of the business in-house.

"The market is always changing, never the same from year to year," says Jim Chambers. "We do what we have to do to keep up. The new building has opened more possibilities for us." ES