Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Reimagining positivity from The Depression?

migrant mother by Dorothea Lange
How many of us remember The Depression? Our great grandparents lived through an era of austerity, a time when excess was unimaginable. For our grandparents it continued as a part of their psyche. Up until the eighties people were still washing plastic bags and glass containers to reuse and repurpose. What changed? The current animosity for plastic seems a little pretentious when we've been the generation that blithely consumes more than any previous group. This hot topic has states rewriting the regulation of plastic bags. While in California 10 years ago, I remember being charged ten cents for a bag at the grocery store. For many, ten cents is miniscule, it’s nothing, but the action of being asked by your cashier, “Do you want to purchase a bag for ten cents?” creates a sense of awareness, that no, this is not free, and yes, we should think about the cost to the environment.
For my generation, we grew up in an era of excess. The business model for growing food and industry, has been geared towards consumerism. In this business model externalities also known as, the cost of water, energy, and pollution was subsidized in tax breaks to corporations by the government and as a result, hidden from the cost to the consumer. What we are realizing now, through education and a resurgence of sustainable business practices is the understanding that these costs are not external, they are integral as we have limited resources and an environment that needs our help and time to renew itself.  
There are exciting new replacements for plastic that are being engineered by students and start-ups in the form of edible packaging made from corn oil, there are foam shipping blocks being made from mycelium, mushroom fungus. Still, plastic is king when it comes to consumerism. Most things we buy are wrapped in plastic, or transported in plastic, which doesn’t biodegrade, and fills landfills. In this transitional period where legislation is slow to ensure environmental sustainability, it comes down to us as consumers. As the ones buying these products for convenience and using single-use plastic for convenience, as individuals how do we take it upon ourselves to life-hack convenient sustainability? As a business how do we make it more convenient for people to re-use?
At the farm a lot of people bring us their plastic bags that we re-use for others. We carry a product by an artisan named Carolyn who makes the Feel-Good Bags by crocheting plastic into reusable totes. We encouraged people to use the baskets and boxes that we sold our fruit in at our store when we gave back a small deposit of fifty cents if they brought them back for re-use. What we found with this though was people weren’t using the same basket over and over again, rather, they were forgetting to bring them back and after the fifth trip or so to our place they might remember and bring back five baskets at once and want a refund. This isn’t a bad thing necessarily but it makes it harder for us to know if the baskets are still clean. For example, I’ve found cat hair in some baskets and after laughing at what must be a cozy space for a cat, threw them away rather than reused these baskets.   Going into this years’ growing season as a business we would eventually like to phase out plastic bags completely but firstly, limit their circulation at our store. The first step is to have more reusable cloth bags for purchase that can be put in the fridge to store and transport the fruit for customers. Secondly, to create greater awareness through signage like “Did you forget your bags in the car?” Because we’ve all done that. For certain fruits like apples, people really want to know which variety they’re eating. Many people will take a separate bag and label each which is really wasteful considering how many varieties we have. A quick fix for those inclined to nomenclature is to give them name labels that they can stick on the fruit. A better way might be to actually educate through an identification sheet of all the varieties with pictures and descriptions which can be handed to people and they can stick on their fridge or, they can take a picture of. We’ve got a lot of ideas but the truth of sustainability depends a lot on individual responsibility. That little bit of effort, that’s hard for us now, because we’re not used to austerity, will eventually become habit. Our conscious choices now, can become good habits that contribute to sustainability in the long run.