Thursday, March 26, 2009

Biodegradable Bags, Local Farms, and Greenwashing

For the past few weeks, I've been researching biodegradable bag options for local farms and farmers markets in Washington State. I was looking primarily at standard sized t-shirt bags, dimensions: 17.7” x 22.8”, 0.96mil(thickness), holds approx. 10 gallons. As I delved into this topic, more and more questions arose:
• What does “compostable” mean?
• How is that different (or similar) to “biodegradable”?
• Are the bags made from non-GMO corn?
• Are they made from petroleum, with an approved additive?
• Will they compost in landfills/home composts or do they need to be composted at approved facilities?
And so on, and so on. It’s a complex issue, without a single “right answer”. I am trying to find a biodegradable bag product that fits five criteria:

1. Affordable, compared to standard plastic t-shirt bags
2. Biodegradable, according to Cedargrove Composting and Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI, a national certifying and testing agency)
3. US Manufactured, there are no local manufactures, but we want to purchase a domestically produced product
4. Authenticity, the goal is to develop a long-term, values-based relationship with the manufacturer, not a sales-based relationship. We want to work with a company that values sustainability, rather than one that simply sells a “sustainable” product.
5. Made from non-GMO corn. We cannot promote sustainable agriculture if we undermine it by purchasing GMO-based products.

In the past, CHC has worked with a local company to purchase “biodegradable” bags. Recently, I found out that their bags are NOT biodegradable in the Cedargrove Composting system, nor are they on the BPI list of approved products. Essentially, they sold us plastic bags at a premium price. Not good. It seems many manufacturers simply label their products "biodegradable" or "sustainable" for marketing. Yes, I have encountered "greenwashing" before, but this was the first time that I didn't really have any background experience or knowledge.

One manufacturer has consistently met our criteria, but before CHC makes a purchase, we're waiting for responses from local farms and farmers markets about their interest and commitment to biodegradable bags. At least we're now more conversant with the terminology and a little less naive about "greenwashing".


Monday, March 23, 2009

Cascade Harvest Coalition is a 2009 Local Hero Award recipient!

Thanks, edibleSEATTLE!

Local Hero Awards

Paperpot Transplanter

Boo-yah! This is for Amy Sills:

Here's an excerpt from the email I received:

The transplanter is hand-pulled and relies on seeding into a system of paper pots that are in a chain. Because the pots are in a chain, they feed themselves through the transplanter. With this transplanter, I can put 264 plants in the ground (one flat) in less than a minute...all while walking upright (no kneeling, crawling or stooping).

Because the pots are in a chain, the in-row spacing is pre-determined. Generally, the system is best suited for closely spaced crops. It is absolutely perfect for allium family crops. It can also be used for things like spinach, chard, many cut flowers, beets, and some herbs. I am still experimenting with various other crops.

I discovered the transplanter while living in Japan a few years ago. I was so excited about it that I not only decided to buy one and bring it back but also made arrangements with the company to import them because they are so well-suited to small farms. The paperpots are not OMRI certified but my WI-based certification agency has approved them for use on my certified organic farm.

The transplanter itself is about $1000. The paper chain pots range from $1.60 to $2.60 per flat. There are other components of the system as well (trays for the paperpots, frames to hold the paperpots open before filling with potting mix, etc.).


2009 Puget Sound Fresh Farm Guide almost finished!

We just finished the final proofing session for the 2009 Farm Guide! Hooray! Lida will send it to the printer tomorrow and the final product should be ready for distribution the first week of April. Until then, check out the GoogleMap of all of the local Farm and Farmers Market Listings in the print edition:

View Larger Map


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

North Sound Farm-to-Table workshop recap

Hey everyone!

The most recent Farm-to-Table workshop, held on March 2nd up in Mt. Vernon, was a huge success! About 50 people attended, roughly half of whom were farmers, one-quarter were local food buyers and one-quarter were resource/support organizations. We had a phenomenal panel of presenters, who discussed "Emerging Market Opportunities for Local Farms":

• Holly Freishtat, Sustainable Food Specialist for Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility (WPSR)
• Kirk Hayes, Devine Gardens
• Jodie Buller, Skagit Valley Food Co-op
• Tim Crosby, Northwest Agriculture Business Center/Growing Washington
• Kai Ottesen, Hedlin Farms

The talk ranged from Farm-to-Institution sales, the Puget Sound Food Network, brewing your own on-farm bio-diesel, developing advance growing and purchasing plans with local retailers, diversifying market operations, and more. After the presentation, the audience jumped into the game with lots of questions and comments.

After a short break, we reconvened in smaller break-out sessions to tackle some of the topics brought up in the panel presentation:

• Farm-to-School
• Farm-to-Healthcare
• Puget Sound Food Network
• Farm-to-Retail

To finish the afternoon, we opened up the floor for one-on-one networking and discussion. Everybody who attended seemed engaged, interested and willing to talk to each other. While the top goal for the workshops is to facilitate new sales relationships between local farmers and local food buyers, one of the meaningful longer-term outcomes is the high-quality discussion about "what's next" for local agriculture. The relationships forged through positive group discussion and brainstorming might just turn into the next successful business partnership. Sometimes we get complaints that there's too much talking at these events....well, how else do you expect to make sales? You gotta communicate effectively before you can sell effectively.

Join us for the next workshop!

West Sound Farm-to-Table Workshop
Date: TBA (check our website for updates!)