We started an organic vegetable farm as a practical form of environmentalism. An opportunity to put our wishes for how the earth should be treated into practice. To set an example for the changes we need to see in the world and to inspire an appreciation for the wonders of the natural world.
We felt good about how we were growing delicious and nutritious food. But we also found ourselves using a lot of plastic bags! We pack our weekly vegetable shares in totes that are reused every week, but any item inside that needs to be portioned (salad greens, beans, peas, cherry tomatoes) is packed in a plastic bag. For years we cringed about our use of plastic bags in the CSA shares. We estimated that we were using up to 4000 bags for our Summer CSA alone, and likely another 2000 for the Winter CSA. We hated it, but felt like we had no choice. And then we received feedback from several members that they would really appreciate us investigating alternatives. So we dedicated some time last winter to research in this area and decided to aim for a plastic-free CSA for 2019!
We considered all sorts of options and weighed the environmental footprint of each one. We consulted with a group of concerned and well-informed community members. Paper bags come with their own problems of deforestation, and would get soggy with freshly washed produce. New cotton bags were going to be expensive and come with the footprint of any new textile.
We were considering changing our CSA model to avoid pre-packing shares. And then Graham broke the zipper on his work jacket (seems unrelated, I know, but you’ll see…keep reading!) I asked around for a recommendation for an alterations/repair service. This led me to find Ev Pell, a local seamstress. In chatting with her, I shared my current research into making our own cloth produce bags by up-cycling sheets and pillow cases. She was intrigued and offered to give it some thought and quote us a price. I guess she liked the flexibility of the project, that the bags didn’t have to match, the drawstrings could be made from anything she had already, and that we would contribute as many sheets and pillow cases as we could. She bravely took it on! She started sewing and we were really happy with how they were turning out.
Next we recruited friends and community members to join us to stamp and heat-set our logo onto the bags. Evenings spent in good company, with good food, conversation and plenty of laughs made it feel slightly less like a sweat shop (we hope!) And at last the first bags were ready!
We are now closing in on the final weeks of our Summer CSA and, while I would be lying to say it’s been glitch-free, we would consider it a successful initiative. We feel much better about our weekly packing of vegetable shares. We have a CSA membership that are very grateful that we made the change, and who are encouraging us to continue.
If we can get enough additional bags made and stamped in time, you’ll be seeing them on our market table at the Orangeville Indoor Farmers’ Market in the weeks leading up to Christmas…what better gift that a one-of-a-kind up-cycled reusable produce bag, proceeds of which will support an environmental initiative taken on by a local, organic farm in your area! Wow, now that says “I love you!”