We’ve been hosting Charles, a Ugandan farmer at our farm in Devon for the past two weeks. Join Guy as he takes a look at his creative farming methods (3 min 50 sec).
Environmentally, there is no such thing as good packaging; only some that is less bad. Recycling can help but it is a poor substitute for reuse or, even better, not using the stuff in the first place. So why do we use any at all? Some leafy veg, like spinach and lettuce, dehydrates so quickly that not using bags results in pointless waste. Similarly, tomatoes and mushrooms need protection and potato bags retain the mud and exclude light to prevent greening. We have done a lot of work with Exeter University to find the ‘least worst’ option for what to use, with some surprising and counterintuitive results. You can read more at www.riverfordenvironment.co.uk.
The veg boxes themselves are designed to be reused many times. If they were all returned we would get around 10 trips per box, but we currently only achieve four because so many are not. If you can reuse them, we are happy. But if not, we want them back, even if they are damaged. If the boxes were all returned, we could more than halve their environmental impact. This is what we would like you to do:
- Veg boxes: fold flat by pushing the ends in so the bottom goes down (not up into the box) and leave out for collection. This is the single biggest thing you can do to help.
- Plastic bags: leave out in your veg box for us to recycle.
- Paper bags and punnets: reuse as seed trays, lunch bags, compost bin liners etc, then compost, or put out for recycling with your paper (if clean).
- Meat box packaging: we’d like the box, gel packs and insulated liner back for reuse. Anything that has touched the meat must go out with your rubbish.
- Plastic punnets: we use few of these so do not have a recycling route. Please put them out with the rest of your rubbish.
Thanks for your help.
Our boxes are reused on average four times, are made from 95% recycled materials and are recycled at the end of their lives but, surprisingly, still account for 10% of our carbon footprint (similar to the lorries delivering the boxes). In the long run we may move to plastic boxes as a more durable and lower impact solution. Preliminary calculations suggest this would give a 70% reduction in CO2 emissions, but it would be a huge capital investment and many of you have expressed a strong resistance to plastic in the past. I sense a rise in pragmatism over dogmatism in environmental issues generally and wonder how you would feel about your veg being delivered in a deposit-carrying plastic crate; email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org/blog.
In the meantime we really need as many boxes back as possible, even if they are damaged (there is a much better chance of them being effectively recycled through us than through most municipal recycling schemes). The boxes cost between 54p and 81p but just as importantly this is the biggest thing you can do to reduce the environmental impact of your veg delivery. Please fold your box flat by pushing the ends in so the bottom goes down (not up into the box) and leave it out for your vegman or lady to collect. We are also happy to take back plastic bags but would rather you added paper punnets to your compostable or paper waste.
help us make your box even better
We really like to know what you think about your vegbox and every week we give you the chance to tell us about your most recent delivery in our box quality survey. Your comments help us keep on top of anything that isn’t up to scratch, let us know about anything that is particularly good and give us new ideas to make the boxes even better. It only takes a minute each week; please follow the link from your weekly box contents email or scroll down to the beetroot on the ‘this week’s box’ page of the website.
Will a hard winter mean fewer pests this year? I’m not holding out much hope. It all depends whether you believe the path to redemption lies in ordered hygiene or dynamic balance. In favour of hygiene, the cold will have cleaned things up; a lot of aphids will have perished and leaves and roots harbouring disease will have been killed, thus breaking the disease-carrying bridge between seasons.
Unfortunately my experience of cold winters past is that any benefit will be short lived. Taking an ecological “balance” perspective, this is easily explained. Most pests that make a meal of our crops are also a meal for someone else: aphids are eaten by ladybirds, lacewing and hover fly larvae and parasitized by certain wasps, slugs are eaten by carabid beetles and toads and predated by nematodes. Red spider mites are controlled by the predatory mite phytoseiulus. Unfortunately these farmer friendly “beneficial” organisms will have also suffered in the cold; in fact they tend to be more affected by the cold than the pests (not only do many die, the survivors get dopey and less hungry).
Some pests always survive and, after a cold winter, there are fewer predators to keep them in check. As pests tend to get going sooner and breed faster, a cold winter might be expected to result in a higher population peak before the predators catch up. Hence cold winters may help the hygiene approach to pest management (as propounded by pesticide salesmen) but are not much help to those looking for balance.
Yesterday the Centre for Alternative Technology launched a very bold document putting forward a plan for Britain to become carbon free by 2027, which was reported on in the Guardian* and the Telegraph*.
CAT’s plan is definitely radical: less meat, and no flying; more local organic produce; and an “armada” of wind, tidal and solar generating facilities.
The main objections to the report’s proposals seem to be that such radical plans are politically unthinkable, and that the public – and more importantly businesses – will never go along with them willingly. But over at the BBC there’s a fascinating report about how businesses in the state of California are powering ahead with new green energy projects, and that the marketplace is the main driver of this change. California has led the way on a lot of recent revolutions – the internet being just one world-changing example – perhaps what’s happening there is showing us that the way to a greener future is possible without changing our capitalist ‘way of life’?
*please note: as this is an older blog post, some of the original links in this article have been changed or removed