YERINGTON — Nevada’s first plant designed to process locally grown, organic produce is now operating in Yerington.
Walker River Cooling is a joint venture by Peri & Sons Farms and The Nunes Company that will get fresh produce down to just a few degrees above freezing in as little as 20 minutes after it’s harvested.
Tom Nunes IV said the produce comes out of the fields at anywhere from 80 to 90 degrees. Until the Walker River Cooling plant opened this summer, the only option was to truck it to Salinas — a drive of eight hours or more.
Now, he said, the produce can be processed and readied for shipping just down the highway from where it was grown.
That means Peri & Sons produce can be shipped nationwide directly from Yerington.
Gov. Brian Sandoval said Tuesday the high tech cooling plant is another example of the progress Nevada is making in not only high-tech fields but agriculture.
He said it also adds about 40 to the permanent, full time staff at Peri & Sons, expanding the total to 440 jobs along with up to 1,600 seasonal workers that come in when it’s harvest time.
Nunes said Peri & Sons Farms grows the produce. The Nunes Company, he said, works with Perri & Sons to harvest and process the fruits and vegetables and then handles the shipping.
“It’s a partnership,” he said.
He said the 12,500 square foot Cooling Plant will soon expand to at least 25,000 square feet to handle the size of the Peri & Sons harvest. With distribution and other facilities, the operation already encompasses some 30,000 square feet.
When the produce arrives, it’s moved into vacuum chambers as quickly as possible. Director of Engineering Scott Gord said those chambers reduce the air pressure to what it would be in a jet more than 30,000 feet above the earth — a place he said where water boils at 34 degrees. Tom Nunes V said that rapidly reduces the core temperature of the produce and reduces its moisture content. The result, he said, “a much longer shelf life.”
“All steps to get produce to market now happen in Yerington while maintaining the company’s commitment to sustainable farming practices that meet the highest environmental, social and economic standards,” said David Peri, CEO of the company.
From the vacuum chambers, the produce is moved on large pallets by forklifts into the Cooling Plant — essentially a 12,500 square foot refrigerator — until the trucks arrive to haul it to market.
In addition to the vacuum chambers, the operation uses forced air cooling for some produce like cauliflower. And other types of produce, he said, need to have some moisture put back in after the vacuum chamber process. Without that restored moisture, he said, products like celery and broccoli would arrive at the store limp and unappetizing .
The Peri & Sons Farms/Nunes Company cooperative effort produces more than 25 million pounds of organic baby greens and 40 million pounds of organic fresh vegetables that are shopped nationwide.
Peri said during construction 430 Nevada workers from 43 different contractors worked in the project. In all, Walker River Cooling can cool and process more than 65 million pounds of fresh produce each season. That will expand to 100 million pounds next year.
Yerington Councilman Jim Sanford said Peri & Sons is now the city’s biggest taxpayer. Mayor George Dini said the company’s expansion has been a boon to Yerington in may ways.