This week’s blog post comes from Helsing Junction Farm in Rochester, Washington, south of Seattle, which is mentioned in my book, Bounty from the Box: The CSA Farm Cookbook. We’re big fans of this farm that was founded in1992 by Annie Salafsky and Susan Ujcic as one of the country’s first CSA operations. HJF began as a 75-member CSA and over the years has slowly expanded to 1,000-plus shareholders. The partnership between Annie and Sue has grown to include their families as well as the families of the people who work with them. It’s a group effort now, with great pride taken in the health and fertility of the soil as well as the beauty of the produce grown.
This summer, its staff has had to cope with smoky haze from Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia forest fires day after day. This recent newsletter reflects on the many ways (which are not always apparent to CSA members or farmers market customers) that their farm reduces the amount of waste it generates through various means, including minimal packaging and donations to the local food bank. (You might remember seeing a guest post from HJF written by Dan Finklestein in September 2016, when he was in his second year as co-manager of the farm.)
— Martha Wagner, Bounty from the Box blog writer
Another week of smoky haze is making for rather unpleasant field conditions. We can’t help but think of all the firefighters exposed to smoke and the people who are living nearer to the fires. It’s been a rough fire season and we are concerned for the future as the climate continues to change.
This week we’ve tried to reduce the amount of time the crew is spending in the field; happily, our CSA boxes are filled with produce that requires less post-harvest handling, such as tomatoes.
One of the things we love most about being a CSA farm is that we can significantly reduce the amount of waste that our farm generates.
If a farm sells mainly to a wholesaler, there’s lots of waste because the wholesaler will only buy uniform vegetables and there are very strict standards. All produce must be a specific size, straight, and blemish-free. That all sounds fine until you realize that 40 percent of produce grown on farms is unsalable on the wholesale market. This means if a farm wholesales, almost half of the crops grown are never harvested.
Direct marketing, such as farmers markets and CSAs allow farmers to sell a wider variety of shapes and sizes to their customers. Farmers that sell at the market still end up with waste though, as you always need to bring more than you can sell. Most farmers donate leftover produce to the food bank, but some just compost it.
CSAs can also offer a wider variety of shapes and sizes to their customers. On farms with CSAs, only about 10 to 15 percent of the harvest is unsalable. Also, with CSA, most members will join before the growing season so everything a farm grows is presold or guaranteed to sell. When selling to the wholesaler, even though deals are struck beforehand, they are not always honored.
With CSA, a farmer can harvest only what is needed for each delivery, so very little is wasted. And on our farm, we donate as much as we can to the Thurston County Gleaners who come every week to harvest our seconds. Last year alone, our farm donated over 30,000 pounds of produce to the Thurston County Food Bank!
And there are other ways that CSAs reduce waste…our boxes are almost all recyclable, from your CSA box to the boxes we harvest into to the minimal amount of plastic bags and bagging we do—there is very little packaging involved.
Part of the reason we include recipes and storage info is that it helps members get through their CSA box each week. We also have a system in place to donate unclaimed boxes to the food bank.
Food that is grown with a full complement of nutrients in good soil has a longer shelf life, which also reduces waste. We noticed when we started adding trace minerals to the soil, our produce lasted a lot longer post-harvest.
And food grown in mineral-rich soil tastes better too because nutrition = flavor. It’s a lot easier to eat your vegetables when they taste good!
Growing food that is not nutritious is a waste of land and resource; we are only as healthy as the soil our food is grown on. The food you see on grocery shelves can look good but not be nutrient-dense or flavorful.
Not only is the produce not very nutrient-rich to begin with, if it’s not freshly harvested food, many of the nutrients are lost by the time it’s eaten. Food in grocery stores can often be 7 to 14 days old. Sometimes when we wholesale, the vegetables are shipped to Portland first (100 miles south) before being shipped to a warehouse in Seattle (100 miles north of us). Not only are nutrients being lost in the long transit/while at the warehouse/on store shelves, it’s a major waste of resources too!
The produce grown on our farm is harvested within 24 to 48 hours of shipping and it travels 100 miles or less to reach you. The health of the soil is our priority; from soil testing twice a year to sea minerals and now mycorrhizae, we work hard to maintain our nutrient levels. This, in turn, grows some healthy, long-lasting, and flavorful vegetables.
If you’d like to know more about the Thurston County Gleaners or you’re interested in volunteering, click here. All levels of participation are welcome, including school groups and children. For those of you in the Olympia area, the Thurston County Gleaners are also happy to take garden leftovers and fruit from trees.
A huge thank-you goes out to Helsing Junction Farm for letting us reproduce their text and pictures—and for everything they do to feed us and their community with both food and generous spirit!