As recently as a hundred years ago, fresh produce was a luxury that was unattainable to most people in the world. A handful of “new technologies” made it possible to transport it from farms to cities without it turning into compost on the way: fossil fuels, refrigeration, and plastic. Fast forward to the 21st century and all three of those have been implicated in climate change and other environmental damage. And yet the consumption of fresh produce has been identified as one of the strongest indicators of a healthy populace.
Terra Firma is no less dependent on fossil fuels, refrigeration and plastic than any other farm. But if you’ve been a TFF subscriber for more than a couple of years, you may have recently noticed a change in how we pack your boxes: less plastic.
Our CSA packing process involves a dozen people lined up alongside a 30 foot roller conveyor, each of them placing one or two items in your box as it goes by. Most bagged items are easier and quicker to place in the boxes than unbagged items. And rather than weighing or counting the items as they are bagged, someone has to count items or approximate the correct weight as the box goes rolling by.
Many of you have complained for years that you receive too much plastic in your boxes. While we have always used a certain amount of paper bags in our packing, they are not appropriate for many produce items: especially items that are still wet when they are packed.
That left plastic as the “fallback” option. The number one priority of our packing crew is to protect the quality of the produce. If there were any doubt about the best way to do this, they would simply pack items in plastic.
For all of its downsides, plastic helps keep items like leafy greens from drying out. It also helps the paper bags in your boxes stay dry. For that reason, there are always going to be a certain amount of plastic bags in your CSA box.
We have tested out the currently available “compostable” plastic bags, and found them useless. They don’t keep the items inside fresh, and they are too flimsy and delicate to use with any efficiency.
California law — yes, there is a law regulating how CSA boxes may be packed — allows us to put unpackaged items in your boxes as long as there is a “liner” on the bottom of the box. So we have been placing more “durable” items straight into your lined boxes such as Carrots, Potatoes and Zucchini instead of bagging them.
On the flip side, food safety laws do not allow us to re-use plastic packing materials. Please do not return plastic bags, clamshells or other plastic items to us. Only the boxes themselves can be used again — and use them we do, as many times as possible.
The weather also plays a role. There are items that don’t need to be bagged during cool, damp weather. But when it’s warm and dry, they need the protection that a plastic bag confers.
It is important to remember that even the most durable vegetables are still susceptible to warm or dry conditions that will reduce their quality. Your CSA boxes are refrigerated from the minute we finish packing them until they are delivered to your dropsites. But once they leave are truck, the clock is ticking on the quality of the items inside. This is true whether or not the items are bagged, but for the unbagged items it is ticking faster. The less time your box spends at the dropsite, and the faster you get the contents into your fridge, the better.
Having said that, I strongly suggest that you should consider bagging some of those items at home before putting them in your fridge. Another option is using reusable, sealable containers to do so. Most home refrigerators operate at fairly low humidity and will dry out items such as carrots or zucchini.
We will continue to look for ways to reduce the amount of plastic in your boxes while maintaining the quality of our produce. But we rely on you for feedback. If you notice any quality problems with the unbagged items, please let us know immediately.