Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Sustainability by Not Doing

Tammy and I had a number of conversations over the past off-season about how we WERE or WERE NOT meeting our goals to be the best stewards we could be with respect to how we farm.  It is important to us that we follow up all of our "big talk" about making choices that are best for the environment, the community and our farm with real effort and works.  Every year, we have some pretty big goals for our farm - and every year we fail to meet them all.  But, I think it is fair to say that we usually make progress. 

All that said, we thought we would share a little bit about what the Genuine Faux Farm is currently doing to be a "sustainable farm."  First, let us make it clear to you that this is NOT a contest and we do not think we are better than everyone else.  The competition here is between our words and our actions.

We are unveiling a series of three blog posts that will appear throughout the month of May this year that highlight our efforts.  We are splitting it into three parts: the things we have been doing, the things we are planning on doing and the things we don't do.  As odd as it may sound, we're going to start with the last!

Paper mulch - kind of a "do and not do", actually
No plastic mulch for us

A significant number of horticulture farms of any size use rolls of plastic mulch to help control weeds.  In fact, there has been research that has been exploring the colors of plastic mulch that most promote the growth of certain crops.  The Genuine Faux Farm decided a long time ago that it would not use plastic mulch solely on the basis that we had environmental issues with it.  We don't like the idea of throwing all of that plastic into the landfill every season and we don't like the idea of what it may be doing to the soil microbiology around it.

On the other hand, we understand the financial reasons for using plastic mulch.  First, the increasing number of 'wet days' in our region has been making it more difficult every season to cultivate and it has encouraged more weed germination.  From a pure cost standpoint, rolls of plastic mulch are inexpensive and fairly easy to install if you have the equipment (which we do).  There is additional labor in the removal of the plastic and there is extra cost in irrigation.  And, plastic mulch has been shown to do the job of suppressing weeds fairly well.  We see the appeal.

But, sustainable farming has three pillars: environment, community and financial.  Plastic mulch helps with the farm finances.  But, we see hidden (from our bottom line) environmental and community costs that we are unwilling to pay.  So, we say no to the plastic mulch.

We are saying 'yes' to more paper mulch this year.  Paper mulch is permeable, so the rains can get through it and we think it is less likely to cause problems for the microbiology in the soil.  Paper mulch will break down by the end of the season and becomes organic matter in our soil.  And, paper mulch also keeps the weeds down next to our cash crops.  So, in a way, this is a 'not doing' and a 'doing' item for our list.

No pesticides, herbicides, fungicides
This is another choice that we made many years ago and we still stand by it.  We understand why these tools are used, we just disagree with the frequency with which they are used by most growers and agriculturalists.  Overuse of these tools is actually leading to the eventual ineffectiveness of these same tools.  This is incredibly annoying to us because we have found that a well-balanced system tends to take care of the extremes that pesticides were made for most of the time.  Nature does have cycles where things go out of balance, and that's a good time to consider use of the chemicals.  But, we use them as a matter of course and left all thought that goes with a potentially dangerous tool sitting on the shelf.

In the end, we make our contribution in this area by not using these tools at all on our farm.  Are there moments in time when we rue that decision?  Of course.  But, they have gotten rarer and rarer as the years go by.

Not pre-packing CSA shares
We have to first admit that we do some prepping and we do use some plastic for things like green beans and spinach.  But, we try to reduce the amount of single use packaging of any sort as much as we can and still maintain a process that considers food safety, product appearance and product quality. 

Re-using coolers is better than limited use packaging! I, the Sandman, have spoken.
 A common CSA model is to package the share into a box and then drop the box off for the customer.  In some cases, the boxes are re-used, which we applaud.  In our case, we prefer the bulk-style delivery method.   Our customers help us do the right thing here by re-using their own containers.  This is one of those cases where we are asking the community to help us out a little bit.  In return, we feel we are doing something positive for the environment and we are doing something positive for the farm's bottom line.  Pre-packing shares takes a considerable amount of time and labor to do - and labor is a significant portion of any hort farm's expenses.  If you add in re-using boxes, then we have to collect them, unload them and clean them before the next use.

Stay tuned for part II!

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