I've raised money for this machine twice, once back in about 1974 and then again over the last four years or so. Let's begin back in the early 70s, when I first started the project. I was in my early 20's and bored one day, and I asked my father if he could think of something that needed inventing. He told me "invent an asparagus harvester". He was a farmer and an asparagus drawer.
I had some interesting ideas about how one could go about building a selective asparagus harvester, and went to my friends and family begging for money. I was able to raise several thousand dollars in seed money. I used that money to build a rudimentary prototype. I built it from angle iron and motorcycle wheels. It had a sears air compressor, 4 air cylinders with blades, and a home made electronics package with an optical sensing system. It could detect spears and cut them, but I had not figured out how to pick them up yet at the time.
I went to a local accountant who had found funding for my brother to do a photo book about the local agricultural community, and asked him if he knew of anyone who might be willing to finance our machine.
He in fact did know someone. He put me in touch with the widow of the owner of a local machine shop that she was running. She watched a demonstration of my little prototype that I pushed down the row of simulated asparagus by hand. It impressed her enough that she told me if I could further demonstrate a way of picking up the spears as well as cutting them she would fund the project. Two weeks later I demonstrated a rudimentary pickup system and we cut a deal. She paid me a salary and her shop split the ownership of the harvester with my original group of investors.
We built several prototype machines over a 10 year period, and we were beginning to make some real progress. Selectively harvesting asparagus is a very difficult task. Many inventors over the years have tried, and millions of dollars have been spent in the pursuit of a selective asparagus harvester, but so far no success.
Unfortunately we realized too late that there was simply no market for an asparagus harvester. Hand labor was inexpensive and easy to come by, and so there were not any farmers in the slightest bit interested in a mechanical harvester. In 1984 we parked the machine in a shed at Geiger Manufacturing in Stockton California, and I moved on.
It was in 2003 I think, when I was talking to an asparagus drawer, and he told me he would give his right arm for a selective asparagus harvester. That got me to thinking, and I dug into town and peeked through the gate at Geiger Manufacturing. It was a Saturday and the shop was closed, but I could see through the gate that the harvester was still in the shed where we parked it almost 20 years before.
The patents that we had based our previous joint venture on had expired years ago, and technology has come a long way in the last 20 years. I approached Geiger Manufacturing and worked out a deal. They would provide the machine shop work and we could use the old machine and I would provide the engineering and work out some new patentable features.
We did a little maintenance on the machine put some air in the tires and took it out to the asparagus fields. I wanted to implement some of the new technology available, but we did not have the funds. I built a web site and laid out what I was trying to do, along with my contact information.
My website got the attention of Washington State University, and a professor came out to see my machine run, even though it was off season. I was able to get a row of asparagus at a local farm, and by cutting down the ferns, the spears began growing again. I ran the machine down a row of asparagus and made excuses for the problems.
Washington State University was impressed and could see the potential of the machine. They ended up funding me for the last 4 or 5 years, for a total of over $ 200,000. They decided to fund a machine from New Zealand last season instead of my machine, and I think they have now expired all of the funds they had.
It would have been nice to get one more year of funding, but we are now ready to market the harvester anyway, and we are in the process of doing just that. Wish me luck.