Minimizing Plastic Use on the Farm

Plasticulture, or the use of plastic in agricultural activities, is quite prevalent in organic farming. Black plastic sheeting is used in fields to prevent erosion, help retain moisture and heat, reduce weed pressure and suppress disease; plastic tubing and drip tape are used for irrigation; greenhouses and high tunnels covers are made of plastic; there are so many areas that plastic shows up on a farm.

Although “plasticulture” can be effective, it is not without harmful consequences. One of those is waste! According to the Rodale Institute, for every acre of land farmed using a black plastic system, 100-120 pounds of waste is produced and will likely end up in landfills.

Alternatives to black plastic, such as biodegradable plastic mulches, are currently rather limited for organic production; the USDA’s National Organic Program requires biodegradable plastics to be derived from at least 80 percent bio-based sources and a suitable degradable plastic for organic production does not yet exist.

While research is still emerging on that front, our goal at Cedar Circle is to minimize the use of plastic (especially single use plastics) across the farm and to reuse or repurpose whenever possible. These are some of the many ways we are striving to reduce our plastic use across the farm:

  • Reducing, or gradually eliminating, the use of black plastic in our fields. In 2024, none of our strawberries are growing on black plastic, and we are trialing growing alliums without it as well. This will increase labor (more hand weeding!) and in some cases may necessitate additional cultivation, or tillage.

  • Utilizing woven fabrics, which are reusable, in place of disposable plastic for weed suppression where possible. The most notable area being the cut flower garden and our high tunnels.

  • Repurposing greenhouse plastic for solarization. Greenhouse plastic only lasts about 4-6 years. When we “re-skin” a greenhouse, we’ll end up using the plastic sheeting in resting fields to control weeds.

  • Evaluating the effectiveness of Reemay (row cover) in pest and frost protection. We will be doing several side-by-side trials to determine the effectiveness of Reemay compared to alternative methods like companion planting.

  • Reusing plant cell trays and pots for greenhouse production year after year.

  • Displaying products in bulk, like greens, in the farmstand instead of pre-bagging them. For now, we will continue to pre-bag certain products while offering a bulk option.

  • Encouraging community members and visitors to use reusable bags and containers in the farmstand and Hello Café.

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