Farms today are one of the greatest users of plastic – almost none of which is recycled! Find out about the many ways we are reducing our carbon footprint, water runoff, and environmental damage by massively reducing our plastic use. And eliminating all single-use plastic from our farm!
Packaging Plastic Alternatives
Food packaging is one of the greatest culprits in agricultural plastic use. Plastic makes long-distance shipping and display in large stores easier. But it primarily helps with marketing. That’s right: the main reason food comes in plastic and Styrofoam packages that are often larger than the food itself is to trick you into buying more!
We do not use any plastic in our food packaging:
Our salad greens are placed in bags made of sustainably produced cellophane. Made from wood pulp and carbon-neutral, you can compost them at home! No need to even find a municipal compost facility!
Our produce bags are made from non-gmo corn starch. They are certified compostable in commercial compost facilities. However, we have found they compost quite quickly in our vermicompost system (aka “worm bin”). Many of our customers also compost them successfully at home. Sometimes, they even begin to break down in the crisper drawer before the food they contain does!
We package our microgreens in compostable clamshell packaging. We use two types. Our favorite is made from miscanthus grass. It composts quickly in home compost, and is made from a perennial grass, that is actually net carbon negative. Unfortunately, they do wick moisture away from the microgreens, so customers need to transfer their greens to another container if they are not eating the right away. Our other clamshell is made from a similar PLA plant-based plastic-like material as the produce bags. They are clear for a good view, and keep moisture in place. But, they do not break down in home compost systems. We try to limit our use of these containers, as they require commercial composting operations to break down quickly.
Our packaging usually costs us around 1800% more than plastic equivalents. But, given the environmental damage and violence associated with the production and disposal of plastic, we feel it’s worth it!
Transplant Production Without Disposable Plastic
… Details coming soon
Drip Irrigation with Long-Life Plastic Tubing
… Details coming soon
No Single-Season Plastic Mulch
Many produce farms, especially larger-scale organic farms, use vast amounts of plastic mulch. The mulch helps reduce weed pressure, saving time used for cultivation. In some cases, it reduces soil-borne disease pressure. It also reduces evaporation of water from the soil, so less irrigation water is needed during dry times.
But these advantages come at a price. Rain water cannot easily penetrate the plastic, so irrigation is needed even when is rainy. That irrigation must be drip – usually drip tape that is installed and will be disposed of together with the plastic mulch. Rain also causes much more runoff. This results in soil erosion problems, nutrient pollution in streams and rivers, and reduced recharge of ground water.
Perhaps the worst issue with these plastic mulches, however, is the fact that it cannot be recycled. Recycling centers routinely refuse plastic mulch, because it is too dirty when it is removed from the field. It also clogs plastic balers, and many of the additives that make it resistant to decay caused by UV light also make recycling challenging.
We do not use any disposable plastic mulches. There are paper mulches available, but they have proven difficult and expensive to use. Biodegradable plastic mulch promises to allow a farmer to till the plastic in at the end of the season, where it will decompose. But we have seen too many of our colleagues with fields full of bits of left-over plastic from multiple seasons. These bits of plastic cause issues with seeders and transplanters, as well as wildlife.
Instead, we spend the time cultivating our crops. We do some cultivation from the tractor, but, mostly use a variety of hoes and other hand tools to keep weeds at bay. Each season we become more skilled and efficient with these tools, ensuring less weed competition for our crops, and reducing the need for tillage compared to using plastic mulch. In addition to cultivation, we use rotations of cover crops to smother weeds and build our soil. We simultaneously reduce plastic use and improve our soil life!
The only plastic mulches we use are durable mulches used for establishing perennial fruit and nut plantings. These remain in place for approximately 30 years. We lay them by hand in a manner that encourages water to seep in through the middle and edges, and only in widely spaced strips, to avoid issues of runoff and pollution. And we are experimenting with ways to establish these plantings in successions that may reduce or avoid the need to mulch entirely.