Wednesday, August 24th: Everyother Group B
In their March 2016 issue, National Geographic did a really interesting (and depressing) piece on food waste worldwide.
One of the main points of the article was just how much food waste there is in the world, due to food that just doesn’t make the cosmetic cut. Two-legged carrots; oddly puckered peppers; tomatoes with funky skin scars.
On our farm we have to make decisions all the time about food quality. We have to balance the reality of what’s coming from the fields with what we believe to be the average members’ expectations.
Selling vegetables at farmer’s market tells us a lot about consumer preference. From our experiences there, we know that people want things that are cosmetically perfect. Customers are excellent sorters.
For our CSA, we know our members have that same desire for high quality and cosmetically perfect looking vegetables. There is no reason to believe that our members have different preferences than our market customers. So what do we do with all the carrots that are still super high quality but just look funny? Or with the red peppers that are in perfect condition except for one bad spot to cut around? Or with the end of the zucchini and cucumbers… still perfectly edible and nutritious but just not great looking? Or the hundreds of pounds of onions that have a bad first layer of skin but are completely perfect under that skin?
The answer? We don’t have a hard and fast standard. We make these decisions crop by crop, week by week depending on what else is happening in the field and in your box. In fact, this seems an endless discussion between Mike and I; so often we are faced with these choices.
For example, last week we picked the 2nd picking off of the 3rd planting of sweet corn. As the season goes on, the quality is often harder to keep as high. At the same time, folks still want to eat sweet corn. So we grow it. But as the plantings go on, the quality goes down. Meanwhile the weather does its thing. We picked last week and basically discovered many of the ears were mature and slightly overripe. The 4th planting of corn wasn’t yet ready. Our choice was to give you the sweet corn, despite its lower quality, or to donate it. We chose to give it to you anyway and let you decide your preference. Some of you emailed us thanking us for doing this! Others of you (especially those members that don’t read our newsletters and emails) were probably very unhappy.
So what are our choices as farmers when we have food that’s less than perfect?
1. We can leave it in the field and choose not to harvest it. As farmers this is a really hard thing to do; when the food is still nutritious and edible and we’ve put in so much labor already…
2. We can choose to harvest it and try to get it to a food pantry. But often we just don’t have the labor time available to be harvesting a crop we don’t intend to sell. Sometimes Mike’s father will help drive loads of things to the CAC on the far east side of Madison. But in general there aren’t a ton of gleaner crews available to call up right when you need them. And most area pantries are not equipped to take in large quantities of the same perishable item.
3. We can give you the vegetable in your box, do our best to communicate to you our choice, and hope that you read our communication.
While we strive to give you the best quality, we also value our labor and hate wasted food. We hope that the next time you get something a little funny looking in your box, that instead of feeling upset by it, that you can feel happy that you get to eat this less than perfect looking but still awesomely healthy thing, thereby doing your part to work against the tide of massive food waste.
Love ugly! Or as many are saying in this food waste movement, “Toss less, Salvage More.”
Cheers and enjoy those ugly cucumbers. They are the last of season.