2012 Archives



DECEMBER 17, 2012 

About a month ago, Brian de Palma published an op-ed article somewhere  stating that research  had shown  that certified organically raised  produce had no more food value than produce raised conventionally. I didn’t see the original  article  but it  caused a furor in the  organic community.  Even as a non certified organic grower, I guess I would wonder how anybody arrives  at a blanket statement like that and the criterion that he used to reach that conclusion.   And of course,  the big question in my mind (without having seen the article),  what is  and how broad is his definition of  food value?

Being more concerned with the mundane business of cramming  farming into increasingly shortening daylight hours and colder temperatures as well as the seasonal  hurdle of Christmas shopping,  I never looked the article up. And I  fell asleep long before my curiosity arose to do so. But I caught a second article by de Palma in our local daily  paper  The Valley News, and I garnered some interesting facts from it that made  me stop and think.

Leaving  food value aside,  he compared  the energy consumption of organic farming  practices vs  conventional  farming.    I would have guessed conventional ag would have used less energy than organic ag.  This supposition is born from the fact that there is a fair amount of mechanical  cultivation  in organic ag  coupled with fallowing systems,  flame weeding  and,  up to this point,   very expensive  fertilizers and soil amendments.  Cultivation and organic  amendments  are  areas in which we  at Edgewater have some expertise, although  in some crops we use herbicides  to get some measure of control over the bad guys (weeds)  and conventional fertilizers as well.    But de Palma  points out that the high use of BTUs  in the  production of conventional  fertilizers and  chemicals  offsets the  high cost of organic production.  Upon thinking about it,   I think he may be onto something.   From a conventional  production   standpoint,  we can see  fossil fuel products  have climbed astronomically  the last  five years for both organic and conventional farmers,  we all use diesel fuel and grease.   Conventional fertilizer has risen astronomically.   I know that my cost of potash  has gone up  300% in the past five years,.   Part of this is demand  (with China being a huge customer for US produced fertilizers), but it remains  that  the means of producing  potash as well as conventional  urea form nitrogen  requires the use of fossil fuel.  So my world gets jostled a little because  not  too many years ago it was,  from a  purely economic  standpoint,   cheaper to produce  food through conventional means.  I think that I may have been complacent in my illusion to that fact, but there certainly is a strong statement  by de Palma in today’s economy  to be otherwise.

At the end of our  day this may just be  another interesting factoid.  Edgewater Farm really isn’t  going to be moved by this other than  better understanding the realities of farming in the 21st century.  It wont be a paradigm shift for us because we have always straddled the line of organic farming and conventional farming.  The objective is still  to understand the  systems that produce safe, healthy  food  in a sustainable way, and choose the correct path.  And while traveling down that  path  we will continue to look forward and aft and keeping an ear to the ground to what others, like de Palma ,  have to say.


NOVEMBER 7, 2012 

As many of you  remember, we purchased the Putnam Farm and Homestead in Cornish back in May. It isn’t an exercise in empire-building, we just needed the land to continue what we currently do. We currently beg, borrow and lease about 35% of the tillable acreage we currently farm, so to secure a land base we bought the farm–both literally and (somewhat) figuratively.  Lots of  folks ask us about it, and what our plans are for its future.  Perhaps this blog will address those questions.

First and foremost, the Putnam Farm will be an exercise in restoration, not just in the buildings but the fields and woodlot as well.

The house presents a special set of problems.  If done properly, it alone could be a separate project in terms of finance and time. Our goal was to stabilize it from decay, which we have pretty well done. First, some electrical work (in terms of new panels and wiring) had to be completed in order for our insurance company to view the house as insurable. That was completed early in the summer, at the same time the water from the dug well was restored. The plumbing was solid and presented no big surprises when we finally pressurized the system.  After we did an inspection of all the chimneys, we installed a wood stove in the kitchen to supplement the forced hot water system. Then, the ancient and fragile boiler, valves and circulators had to be replaced and antifreeze put in the lines.  Our good friend and chief tractor operator, George Cilley,  patiently took all the windows apart, scraped them, re-glazed all the panes and painted all the window sashes to tighten up the windows. In November we  had  our friends the Skovsteads  (who oversaw our farm stand renovation) help us to cap the attic so we hopefully can retain a little bit more heat in the winter.

The fields needed some attention. Steve Taylor, our local “ag” historian and friend, figured that the fields had not been turned over in over 40 years. That corroborated with the fact that the soil test showed a low pH and high organic matter, which would indicate that it has been in sod for a long time. So we amended the pH with wood ash and cover-cropped half of the land with a combination of buckwheat, soybean and hairy vetch and winter rye for the winter. The tree lines have been encroaching on the field for a couple of generations, so much brush work will be done this winter. Hopefully, we will additionally clear two acres of field that was let go to woods.  Clearing will generate a  lot of firewood. That is good, ’cause I am sure Ray’s wood stove will be eating a lot of it.  

A key part of this farm puzzle will be trying to get water up from the Connecticut River and under Route 12A to the fields that we want to crop. To that end we have engaged the services of ECI Construction in Burlington who will deal with the permitting process with the Railroad and execute the horizontal bore under the tracks, fields and and road.  The time frame is hopefully early winter, and if  it does come to pass,  we may start limited cropping there in 2013.

After much research and soul-searching, we decided to take the barn down. The  barn dimension is 120 x 34 and is actually two separate  40 x 34  English post and beam barns connected with timbers to make one barn.  It has historical connection and value to the property.  But it is in need of extensive foundation work, and one gable end that has been exposed to weather has suffered a great deal of rot in the framing timbers.  Because of a compromised foundation, the frame is shifting to the south.  We engaged former barn and Ag structures Specialist John Porter from UNH as well as local framing guru Leo Maslan to assess the needed work. Ultimately, it looked like a big money pit that really wouldn’t give us a serviceable structure that we could actually use or need.  If left without the needed immediate  reparation,  it will be sufficiently compromised and might come down under snow load in the near future. Additionally, it may  be viewed  in legal terms as an “attractive nuisance,” and as such presents us with a potential liability issue. So Ken Epworth and his crew at the The Barn People, LLC in Windsor, Vermont  are going to take it down and dismantle it, marrying parts of the two frames into one good frame, saving any additional materials that might be recycled to future job sites, burn the waste and remove all  cement and foundation rock. That will give us room  in the future to  put up some appropriate barn or storage structure that we can actually  use, and at the very least give us another 1/2 acre of land to crop.

This is a highly visible property, and we know that because we are frequently asked questions about what is going on and what our plans there are. If you have an interest or question about the property, please feel free to contact us  at info@edgewaterfarm.com.  Happy Thanksgiving.


OCTOBER 3, 2012 

The farmstand closes Columbus Day, and I am already fielding the annual question:  “Now, what do you do when the farmstand closes?”   My most recently crafted response is simply to say “As soon as we shut down in 2012 we immediately start work on 2013″ and that statement is essentially true.  Yes, we will continue to wholesale fall crops to some degree,  our fall CSA will continue until Thanksgiving, and there will be gleaning and working to get food to the local community pantries in conjunction with Willing Hands, our local distribution service. But for the most part, we will be focusing  everyday on getting things in order for re-opening our doors for Spring 2013.

There is a ton of stuff to do before snowfall (if the weather cooperates), such that there is enough work for about 6 of us full time (40-45 hours a week) through mid-December.  We still have root crops in the field for harvest. Field cleanup is pretty far along at this point, although strings and stakes will have to be removed from peppers and tomatoes. The  raspberries have yet to be pruned.  Blueberries need to be cleaned up and lightly pruned. Strawberries will have to be gone through and perennial weeds removed,  straw mulch applied and protective deer fence put up.   Irrigation pipe will have to be picked up, and fall tillage (plowing, spading) done before the ground freezes.  The stand will have to be broken down and cleaned up so as not to attract animals. The potted plants will have to be cleaned up and brought back to the main farm. Perennials will be overwintered outdoors under protective covering, and the annuals will have to be overwintered in winterized stock plant greenhouses where we hope to start taking cuttings before the holidays. Vegetable and flower seed orders will have to be generated before the first of the year…that takes days. Tax prep work must be collated and completed (farmers’ federal tax is due March 1).
Greenhouses will have to be cleaned as soon as the onions, pumpkins and squash are taken out of them. Many will have to have their protective greenhouse skins replaced and repairs done to fans, thermostats and switches. Furnaces will have to be cleaned and serviced.  If and when we  get a snowstorm that has to be plowed (four to six inches), the snow will have to be removed from around the greenhouses that we have to get into all winter long. A six inch storm generates enough machine and hand labor to occupy 3-4 people a full day.  Flower seeding starts in December and the first greenhouse tomatoes are seeded right after New Year’s Day. Then there is brush cutting around the fields to keep them “open,” firewood to be generated for the families, an irrigation system to be designed for the new farm, a barn to come down, a replacement for that barn designed, more machine repair…

Our farm remains a very busy place year round.  Yes, we will cram some downtime in, a few hikes, day trips to see friends. Our days shorten as the sunlight ebbs towards winter. But we work here with the knowledge that the days will soon enough start to lengthen.   Self employment is not for the faint of heart, and it may be over-rated. But it still works for some of us.


AUGUST 5, 2012 

The Thirtieth Olympiad swirls around us, but down on the farm we are in the midst of our own marathon.  As we come to the end of the long hours of what is referred to as “blueberry season” (we still have to weed, water and  harvest everything else) we can mark the end (we hope) of the fairly frequent 14-hour day. Everyone is plodding onward. The college contingent of the crew is looking forward to the comfort of returning to sleeping later and air-conditioned classrooms, and the rest of us will look forward to taking comfort in the cooler weather of September, if and when it finally arrives. We have been slogging through a drought and a lot of 90-degree days this summer. Roy says that the hot days in Jamaica have nothing on the hot days in New Hampshire.  Today we are watching the radar to see if we can pick up a much needed shower, otherwise Mike will be back to wrestling irrigation pipe and priming finicky pumps. We are all ready for a change.

A nice thing happened yesterday. While on one of my infrequent stops at the farm stand I ran into Larry Dore, Plainfield Police Emeritus.  Larry has been stopping by and getting corn at the farm stand for just about as long as we have had one. I looked into his bag and made some remark that the paltry four ears of corn were another one of our mutual concessions to advancing years. (20 years ago we were easy 4-6-ears-a-sitting men). In the course of chatting about retirement, he made some very unwarranted but kind remarks about the value of the type of work that we do on the farm, and the contributions it makes to the greater community. He even thought that what I do for work might have more real tangible value  than his career. I, however, might draw the line saying that I don’t think farming is more valuable than his job of keeping the bad guys behind bars and keeping the honest people honest,  a job he executed professionally and effectively for so many  years. But it was nice to hear, and made me feel good for a few minutes until I got back out into the broiling sun and 90-degree heat. The irony was that we never set out to do something noble. At the end of the day we were just like so many other working stiffs setting out to do a job, have a lifestyle and make a living. And trying not to do any collateral damage along the way to anyone or anything. Glad that it seems to be turning out that way.


JUNE 26, 2012 

We are  wading our way through strawberry season, our craziest time of year. Introduce the fact that we just added an additional 25 acres of tillable land and 45  acres of woodland  at the Putnam Farm to work up, and you might ratchet up the anxiety levels, but so far it has not been the case. In fact, we are settling into our new “home” pretty comfortably.  The fields haven’t  been plowed in over 40  years to anyone’s recollection, so we “broke  ground” by plowing the fields and seeding cover crops just as soon as the soil tests returned from the state lab.  The Macs put in  12 acres of cow corn in the  back half of the land, and we are working on the front half. After the addition of wood ash to remedy a low soil pH and some potassium deficiencies in the soil,  I seeded the cover crops (or green manures); one field down to buckwheat, and the other field to soybeans, a cover crop I have never tried before but hope to capture some nitrogen with.

While I was seeding down the soybeans, I had some time to reflect upon some questions that have been asked of us since we took ownership.  There are the simple questions like “Are you going to  put up a farmstand down there?”  which currently is not our intent.  One that took me off guard, but has cropped up a couple of times, is “What are you going to name your new farm?”

It is a curious question  to me, because I never questioned that it would or should be called anything but the Putnam Farm.  The Putnam family farmed that ground for over two hundred years. There is a legacy there that deserves some recognition because of the emotion and sweat equity a family puts into a piece of ground.  I think it would be pretty presumptuous of me to rename the farm, and a display of egotism.  Jon Satz in Brandon, Vermont,  a fellow farming buddy, kept the name of his farm (Wood’s Market Garden) the same, out of respect for the family that came before him.  Yes, land is a resource, but if you look at land only as an income-producing tool, you probably missed the point of being a farmer, and in the long run are likely to be a pretty shitty steward of that land.  The home farm where we live was owned by the Colby family from 1832 until we bought it in 1974, and  I knew Stan Colby, the gentleman who ultimately sold it to us. I got to know him better over the remaining years when he was living in Cornish.  It had always been known as the Edgewater Farm.   He gambled a bit and took less money for the place than he could have gotten on the open market, so that two kids could get a crack at having their own farm.  He lived long  enough to see that gamble pan out, for he was just as pleased as we were to see us developing a successful strawberry business and fixing up the old homestead.

Frank Brock,  a fellow ski patroller and longtime friend I worked with at Mt. Ascutney, once jokingly said  “We’re not here for a long time, we’re just here for a good time.”   Our stay on the land is not a long time, and we do want it to be a “good” time.  But we are just one in a number of families like the Colbys and the Putnams who are using this house, this land, this water for a while and we should never leave it in anything but better shape than we found it. So when I work in the fields I ponder questions about the families who stood there before me, and it connects me to them. Did Stan Colby’s grandmother really plant a box elder tree in the front yard of the house that eventually spawned all these weed trees encircling the lower meadow?  How did Link Putnam farm this wet area of the field?  Could my Dad ever have imagined that when he bought this 2-cylinder John Deere tractor to plow and bale hay in 1956 that his kid would be using it to plant soybeans in 2012?

I am never alone on a farm.



MAY 27, 2012 

For most everybody in the Upper Valley, this is traditionally the big weekend to plant the gardens, although many of the more hardcore types have been  pushing the envelope for almost a month by getting their perennials in, seeding  their hardy vegetables and annuals while covering their more tender transplants from the frost. But if you need to follow a clock, now is the time to get the garden in.  Here at Edgewater, as well as at  other farms in the Upper Valley,  the first planting of everything is in the ground.  Because we are shooting for earliness, we oftentime make two  plantings  of crops you might not consider.  We actually have two  chronologically staggered plantings of  cherry tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons and cukes to name a few. I usually  make my last  seeding of radishes the second week of  September.  Planting goes on all summer long with lettuce, herbs, greens and cole crops.

We closed on the purchase of the Putnam Homestead in Cornish earlier this month and are  hard at work there, both in the house and the fields. We are going through the necessary electrical upgrades in the house and  trying to improve some of the drainage about the foundation. As it is such a huge old house, windows need glazing before winter and that is being attended to on rainy days when  George isn,t mowing or having field tillage to attend to. The fields, which haven’t been plowed in anyone’s recent memory, have been turned over and the ancient sod broken.  Wood ash is being imported to correct the PH of some of the field as well as raise potassium levels, lime will be used  on other blocks. The MacNamara family is growing  fodder corn on some of the acreage, while we retain over half of the tillable land to cover-crop  and perhaps actually plant to vegetables as early as spring of 2013.  In any case,  the new property is another task to integrate, figure out and manage. So far, so good.

We seem to be getting more calls about U-Pick strawberries earlier in the year, with more frequency,  than ever before. This illustrates the huge disconnect that the average population has with its local food system despite all the recent press of the last couple of years.  The earliest call that I ever answered was from a woman who wanted to pick berries the third week in April.  It was three years ago, it was the first day that our greenhouses were open for the season, and there were still chunks of ice  on the river bank. In the “old days’ we used to notify one another (the other Upper Valley berry growers) to see who would have that first ridiculous call among us and I am now the record holder.  But now it is very routine to field e-mails or calls from people who want to pick berries in early May.  In discussing it with other growers the consensus was that if people  never grow a garden and they see Mr. Driscoll’s California strawberries in the market all winter long, consumers naturally would question why wouldn’t they be available locally in April?   Winter is over , isn’t it?


APRIL 4, 2012 

I hope I have no rude surprises today, but at this point in the season there are always many, both good and bad. Among the bad are the importation of insect pests from the purchase of other plants from other greenhouses. Surprise! the perennials from Michigan have aphids on them.  Surprise! the fuschia cuttings from Indiana  are covered with thrips.  Surprise! Pooh left the  key on in the skid steer loader so Mike could find the battery dead this morning.  The list can go on. But so far things are going well for the early greenhouse season. The mild winter has allowed us to function at this end of the growing season without having to wade around in slush, mud and snow and the fuel bills are greatly reduced in comparison to the winter of 2010-2011.  It is pushing the season a bit in the field, and this is always a dangerous path to be walking in early spring, but it is what it is, as they say, and we may as well try to take advantage of the open conditions to get things done out there in advance.

Recently a factoid caught my eye that I thought I would share with you.  I have  been down to the statehouse a couple of times, and testified before folks there regarding different agricultural issues.  It never ceases to amaze me that how little  the layperson/legislators understand about agriculture.  Most view us as interesting, harmless bucolic sorts, who use open land for food production until a better use can be found. That being, perhaps,  a family housing development, public education or recreation use or perhaps a manufacturing facility site.  But they find it hard to grapple with the fact that there is an economic contribution that we make to the surrounding community, much harder still for them to visualize us as small businesses.

A farming buddy of mine in Randolph,Vermont, came up with an interesting fact.  Sam Lincoln of Lincoln Farms is a pretty sharp fellow, and unlike many of us who deplore anything to do with economics, he enjoys looking at his books and figures. They speak to him directly and so he is able to couple good sound economic judgment with his passion for farming in making major decisions about his lifestyle and his farm.  Recently he figured out that out of all the  expenses he incurs at his farm, he pays back 88% of it to other vendors and folks within a 30 mile radius of his farm.  Talk about keeping it local.  I don’t know if my expenses would sugar off the same,  but as I sit here and think about it, I’ll bet that we aren’t very far off.  Most of my farm equipment comes from Townline Equipment, down at the end of River Road. The fuel suppliers are local (even if they make most of the stuff in the MidEast) and my auto mechanics live in town.  Most of my filters, auto repair, and batteries come from an independent parts jobber in Claremont,  insurance agent in Charlestown, fertilizer and supplies from Bradford, etc., etc.  Except for Roy and Willy, all the other help are local folks. Plus, because of the tax structure in NH, we pay a princely sum of money to the Town of Plainfield for the luxury of doing business in what is admittedly one of the prettiest sections of the state.  So yeah, we are keeping it pretty local too.  Farms are pretty significant businesses in their communities, even if they can’t be found in a store front in a mall.

So this blog is not meant to flog you with some more incentive to “Buy Local”.  Most likely if you are wading through this you probably support your local greenhouses and farm stands anyway, and thank you for that support. But it comes as some surprise to me (thanks to Brother Lincoln’s enterprising inclinations)  that we farms indeed have a bigger impact socially and economically in our communities than I previously thought.  So thanks for buying local. What is bought local, stays local.


MARCH 27, 2012 

As many saw in the Saturday edition of the Valley News, we just signed a purchase and sales agreement with the Putnam heirs of Cornish, NH to buy their family farm.

This didn’t come as a  surprise to those who know us. We have been pursuing land acquisition for several years. Of all the land that we currently till, 25% is leased on an annual basis. That made for uncertainty about our future, at least in terms of growing food crops. Additionally, after 36 years of strawberry growing, we were seeing issues related to pathogen build-up in the soils. Nothing a good long term rotation won’t cure. We looked at several land possibilities, both on our own and in concert with the Upper Valley Land Trust.  Some sites were too far away, some sites had marginal soils.  In two cases people told us that although they loved our product and coming to our stand,  they  just didn’t want to have us in their field of vision while we were working.

The total scope of the  purchase of the Putnam Farm and the challenges it presents are much larger than we were originally looking for.  After many weeks of discussion we came to an agreement that although it might be a stretch for us initially, we could be grateful we did so at some time in the near future.  The soils at the Putnam Farm are the best in the northeast, and we have access to the Connecticut River for irrigation. And it doesn’t hurt that you can look up from hoeing lettuce and have the  most panoramic view in the Upper Valley of Mt. Ascutney.

We are a bit overwhelmed at this point, but none the less we are excited about the possibilities the acquisition of the Putnam homestead will bring to the future of the greater family at Edgewater Farm.  It is a big undertaking  both financially and from a management standpoint, and we are cautiously optimistic and hopeful that we are up to the task of handling both.  There have been several folks  in the area who have called to congratulate us.  My response now to them is to save the congratulations for ten years or so. It will be more appropriate then if we can pull this off successfully.


FEBRUARY 19, 2012 

Pretty odd winter thus far. But that’s New England, where only the unexpected is expected. It’s been very open and very snowless, and pretty warm.

I can already hear the  incessant line of questioning:  “What is this doing to the strawberries??   It is a year that allows me to keep the answer succinct…which is simply “I have no idea.”  What happens to  our berries, legumes in the forage fields, the  maple syrup crop or the flowering perennials in home gardens is yet to be determined by what the weather in the  next two and a half months has to offer.  As a  person  who is in his advancing years, and profits more from the lack of ice to fall on or shovel from around the barns and greenhouses than the good snow cover for winter athletic activities, I can’t say that I have minded the mild conditions too much,  and now with March getting close,  we are getting the seasonal urges to get farming again. Today my son Ray and his cousins boiled their first 22 gallons of maple syrup of 2012.

Things keep getting ramped up in the greenhouse and it feels like spring in there when it’s sunny outside. We are well into seeding and taking cuttings of ornamentals….dividing begonias and grafting tomato plants.  Many perennials were seeded last week and there are flats of tomato seeds waiting to germinate along with browallia, portulaca and dusty miller, to name a few.  Some cuttings are just about ready to be  potted up already, and many of the salvias will be stuck this week. We are currently also seeing a particular aphid population expand with the lengthening daylight.

We are  beginning to release  beneficial  predatory and parasitic insects into our greenhouses in an effort to establish populations of good insects to balance the emergence of  things like our aphid population, aka The Bad Guys. We purchase from 3 insectaries nationwide, but they are primarily brokers for European concerns that grow for a much more developed and sophisticated market in Europe.  Here in the US the science of  beneficial pest control is really just getting a foothold. We here have been working with University and Extension Service entomologists for 20 years trying to get a handle on how to make it work for us, and it remains a work in progress. But we have definitely  gotten better at it,  and there is a lot of  info sharing going on between growers as other growers come on board.

Just an addendum in regards to globalization. A real downside to globalization is the rate that it brings in new  pests to our growing areas.  Historically, it has always happened – the  Colorado Potato Beetle came from Europe originally in the mid-nineteenth century and I believe it took over twenty years to work its way westward to Colorado. Dutch elm disease took 60 years to move through the US elm population. However, the latest huge concern to New England fruit and vegetable production- the Spotted-Wing Drosophila fruit fly that attacks all fruit and tomatoes- hit the west coast in 2009,  and was found burrowing in fall raspberries in southern NH last fall.  The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug is another little gem that showed up within the continental US in the last ten years, and is now part of our reality. There are some pretty nasty Bad Guys moving into the ‘hood, and I am sure you will become more aware of them in the future. But for now it is still winter even though it is comfortable to sit in the lawn chair on a sunny day with some warm clothes on. The bugs are not moving outdoors, anyway. Yet…


JANUARY 3, 2012 

No doubt about it. Edgewater Farm  generates some refuse. And as the farm kept getting bigger over the years, the size of the dumpster and our waste stream kept getting bigger.  About 10 years ago it caught my attention enough to want to do something about it.

We have several different waste streams, and some have been trickier to solve than others.  There is the organic waste that is generated by the farm stand and greenhouses,  everything from  plant and flower trimmings to vegetable spoilage.  This particular waste stream has always been pretty easy to deal with,  because most of it is composted here and  broadcast back onto the fields as soil amendment. That waste stream has traditionally had value to us and we capture all of it.

The next problem we saw was the use of season-extending  agricultural plastics. The black plastic mulch that traditionally is used in the field for soil mulch is a petrochemically based product that had to be land-filled or incinerated. We were generating enough volume so that we were filling  our dumpster multiple times during the fall with just this product alone.  So when the Canadians started importing the cornstarch-based plastic mulch from Italy eight years ago, we made a journey north to get some to trial.  It turned  out to be as good as they claimed it to be. Every year since we have used this black cornstarch mulch and it holds up  for about 70 days before it starts to decompose. More farmers have come on board over the years so that I might  guess that  30-35% of the  farms in the northeast use it in their fields.  Oddly enough, the product is not certified by the feds for use by USDA  Certified organic farmers, a position that  I think is  counter-intuitive and perhaps political and therefore inexcusable. But we use it and find that the high up-front cost of the biodegradable mulch (about 3 times that of  non-biodegradable type) is offset by the reduction of labor at the end-of-season collection from the field. We just harrow it up or wait until spring to work the remains of it into the soil.  Conventional oil-based plastic has to be pulled up and landfilled.  Within a year of application there is no remaining shred of biodegradable  mulch in the soil.  The same can rarely be said abut the oil-based plastics, you find shreds of it for years in the fields after its use. Biodegradable mulch was a gamble we took on behalf of the environment that actually worked out well all the way around.

The next hurdle confronting us was the waste stream of pots, plastics and cardboard that is generated by greenhouse production. The  plastic pots and  baskets all come in carboard boxes. Seeds, hard goods, tools as well…..much comes in cardboard boxes. We break these boxes down to reduce volume but we still had truck loads of  random sized cardboard to deal with. Two years ago we bought an old trash compactor and baled our cardboard. That helped, but it still left us to move 250-pound bales of compressed cardboard. The plastic pots are recyclable,  but not easily reusable. This is because they have to be washed and sterilized and it is not cost-effective to do so. We have switched some of our pots to fiber so that they are  biodegradable, but they are not all that user friendly for the customers.

In 2011 (in between the spring floods and Hurricane Irene) our town switched to Zero-Sort trash collection and recycling.  I can’t begin to tell you how handy zero-sort recycling is.  The town of Plainfield had a recycling program before that recycled  glass, some different grades of plastic and paper and cans, but it all had to be pre-sorted into separate bins with some types of plastic not allowed. With Zero-Sort all types of plastic, all types of glass and all types of paper and cardboard can be mixed all together in one container. Suddenly we were able to participate effortlessly in community-wide recycling that reduced and diverted an additional 30  percent of our recyclable materials away from the landfill.  It  just became so much easier and it felt good for the environment. All that recycled plastic meant less fossil fuel to be used in plastic production. Just think, all those dirty plastic pots and bottles could be turned into another useful  product.

In 2012 another environmentally sound product became available to us. As we have started up a commercial kitchen as an adjunct to our farm stand,  we were in need of  packaging.  We were able to source food-grade biodegradable containers to  put our soups, salsas and  pestos in. Another product diverted from the landfill.

We still have some farm waste products that we have to figure out.  The greenhouse  plastic film coverings are not being  recycled at this time, but I have to follow up  on a lead or two  that may change that.  The plastic clamshells that we  package our  cherry and  grape tomatoes and  our blueberries for wholesale accounts  can be recycled, but I would feel much better if there was a biodegradable  solution for packaging those  as well, and will be keeping my eyes open for those this summer.

So if you are passionately  pro/anti-incineration  or pro/anti-landfilling of  garbage,  zero sort recycling is just a wonderful addition to the tools that deal with community waste streams. All in all,  2011 was a pretty good year for garbage at Edgewater Farm.  You can be sure that we will continue working on it.