Many of you have seen it on the ABC’s War On Waste series. Or you’ve seen it with your own eyes and through your own research….modern agriculture practices, combined with stringent supermarket criteria, produce a LOT of food waste.
Woolworths made a step in the right direction, with their The Odd Bunch vegetable/fruit selections. We used to buy them before we went organic, and were pleased to see that at least some of the stranger or undersized looking produce items were making it to the shelf!
But what about in the market garden setting? What food waste do we produce, and what do we do with waste?
For starters, we create very little food waste. You can never predict exactly how many lettuce will sell, or how many people will want cauliflower next week, but you can get a rough idea and plant accordingly. Rick puts a decent effort into crop planning (his engineer traits come out in this- you should see the spread sheets!) and as a result our production is fairly well suited to customer demand.
Sometimes there will be a glut. Right now it’s cos lettuce, most likely because it’s winter and people aren’t really eating cold salads and aren’t used to using cos lettuce in any other way. What do we do with the surplus?
Generally one of three things:
-Feed the sheep. The sheep LOVE lettuce, cabbage…even pumpkin as we discovered this week. And as we’ve not had decent rain for months, our paddock is quite depleted of pasture. The surplus lettuce are saving us from buying lucerne for the sheep.
- Feed the chickens and ducks. Man can not live by bread alone, just as the fowl can’t live bye grain alone. They adore greens, and are daily the recipients of extra or damaged produce. Thanks to all these greens, our eggs have beautiful rich orange yolks, and the fowl are in good health.
- Return the crop to the soil. I used to struggle with this as it seems like waste, when you’ve been brought up not to waste food! But there’s nothing wasteful about enriching your soil. Sometimes we even grow a green manure crop, purely to mow back into the soil and boost the soil structure and nutrient levels. Presently we have a half a row of overgrown bok choi and mesclun mix. Rick actually likes it when this occurs, because we started out with heavy black clay soil. It was like trying to dig into a big block of modelling clay. Organic matter was desperately needed to remedy this soil, and 18 months later, here we are with completely different soil structure. It makes sense that if you are constantly removing produce from the soil, that you should also be often giving back to the soil.
Rick is also a big fan of doing any trimming of veg (beet greens, brassica leaves etc) at the harvest site, so all those greens go right back to the soil.
The only time food ‘waste’ leaves our property is when I offer it for sale as pet greens, or on odd occasions might sell seconds cabbage for sauerkraut.
A completely different story to mass agriculture isn’t it? And as for undersize or unusually shaped produce, we’re finding that we have less and less of that as our soil improves, but what we do have can still be used. If I have a few cabbages that are undersized, I can ask a customer if they mind having 2 smaller cabbages rather than one big one. Or I can add a few extra beets to the bunch if they’re little. It’s a small enough business that we can talk directly to the customers about their produce and work together to reduce the chance of food waste.