We have been reviewing the results of our end of year surveys sent to summer season members and are so very grateful for the feedback. While the positive comments are appreciated, we especially appreciate the ideas highlighting the ways we can improve as a farm and better meet your needs. One theme of note along these lines: too much plastic!
We’re with you on this; most local, organic farmers we know, in fact, are concerned about the issue. We are keenly aware that plastic is not organic at all – its use can seem counter to the very reasons we farm. Plastic in agriculture is a complex issue, however. In large-scale vegetable production, production-side plastic use is tremendous – you can be quite sure, for instance, that many vegetables you buy at the grocery store are grown on plastic mulch, organic included! – and yet this is not often mentioned in media coverage of the issue. The reason farmers use the stuff it is that is far cheaper than paying people to keep the weeds down. Its use will no doubt continue so long as the values of industrial agriculture – efficiency and profitability – trump values like the environment and fair wages.
We at Three Sisters long ago decided against using single-season plastic mulch. We do use, however, a small amount of re-useable landscape fabric for our tricky vining crops like melons and squash. However, your concern was more with the bags and other packaging on the post-production side of things. Here’s some of our reasoning behind the choices we’ve made:
We often get asked if we can reuse the bags. There is often water, pieces of veggies and soil in the bottom of the liner bag after it has been used once. This is a great recipe for the growth of all kinds of organisms. Because it would be ineffectual for us to sanitize a used bag we simply do not feel comfortable taking the risk giving someone else this bag a second time.
In response to the environmental concern of single use plastics there has been a movement toward compostable and biodegradable plastics. We looked into this as an option, but after doing some research we are of the opinion that compostable/biodegradable plastics are not a real solution. If you’re curious why we feel this way check out this article.
So how are some farms getting around the plastic issue?
The best way to get around it we think is to have people come to you with their own packaging. We recently begun to imagine what having a “plastic free drop site” might look like. However, most members seem quite satisfied with home delivery which – argh – seems to require some kind of packaging.
Some farms use reusable boxes made of hard plastic that can be washed and sanitized after each use. We’ve considered this, but currently can’t imagine how we’d fit in the tremendous task of washing and sanitizing all these boxes each week. Also, such boxes are still made of plastic, though reusable.
Some other ideas we’ve had to reduce our plastic use:
We look forward to getting more of your feedback on this topic and of continuing the dialogue. Let’s figure out – together – a plastic strategy that works for everyone! If you have any insights to share please contact us by email @ firstname.lastname@example.org
-Jeff & Kelly
Jeff Schreiber has been farming organically for 10 years. In 2011 he started Three Sisters Community Farm with his wife, Kelly.