Atop a remote wooded hillside, I pause to rest on the crumbling remnants of one of the many fieldstone walls that crisscross our farm, contemplating our current harvest, one that is a far cry from flowers but still very much a harvest from the land nonetheless.
    
Instead of flowers, my husband Lou and I have been picking stones — hand-picking stones that we’ll use to build our house. Hopefully to begin construction this spring, what started as a dream in 2002 is finally becoming real, stone by stone. At a mere 50 a day, we should have those we need in a few months.
    
We take it slow and steady (I have given myself a 20 stones per day quota), our labor rewarding us with a tangible relationship to our dream and the land that is profoundly fulfilling. I can’t help but wonder as I work, who made these walls, how many hands touched these stones, and about those who labored here before us. What were their dreams as they built up the farm and its dry stone walls, rock by rock? Adding my stones to the pile at the base of the hill, I add my effort to generations before me and think about the land and its resources that we work to preserve and cherish.
    
After making my daily contribution to our rock pile, I head to the barn where altogether different piles await. Stacks of plastic plug trays and pots, bundles of row cover, and towers of buckets line our prep area. Is all this plastic the legacy I’ll be leaving for our children and grandchildren? What changes in our production could I make to ensure a sustainable future?

Plastic Overload
    
On closer examination of the piles of plastic, I identified three major sources: plug production; bed formation, including irrigation; and retail packaging of flowers and plants. Our options? Reuse our current stock of trays and containers, find recyclers in our area that accept horticultural material, or source new innovative products, or a combination of all three. Most pressing is what we can’t reuse.
    
Each year we accumulate more and more trays and balls of unusable drip tape. The mound is growing no matter how much we try to sanitize and reuse. Zook’s Plastic Recovery is a resource in our region for recycling agricultural plastic. From plug trays and greenhouse plastic to drip tape, their web site  www.zookplastic.com  lists products they accept.
    
Daniel Zook explained that all products should be clean, to the extent possible, and bundled in way that they can handled easily prior to putting into their baler. He also suggested calling first for an appointment, or visiting their facility during one of their plastic receiving drives scheduled throughout the year.
    
Recycling will play an important role in our sustainability. Over time, I hope to implement a “no new plastic or non-recyclable plastic” policy for our business.

Biodegradable by Golly

Increasing consumer and producer environmental concerns are driving the development of biodegradable and compostable container choices. There are many options, but not all are suitable to plug production for small growers or those that are require specialized plastic trays unique to specific products. In doing my research for this article, I found that the February issue of GrowerTalks  magazine provided valuable clarification regarding degradable, biodegradable, or compostable containers. In the article “Biodegradable Pots 101” , Jennifer Duffield writes, “Technically, biodegradability refers to the decomposition process. But compostability means it breaks down in a compost system AND it results in usable compost.  It shouldn’t, for instance, contain toxic ingredients that could render that compost unusable.”  I found my biodegradable and compostable plug tray solution to be the Fertilpot (www.fertilusa.com).
    
Composed of 80% wood fiber and 20% peat, with no glues or binders, two 36-cell Fertilpot strips set in a 1020 carry tray create a 72-cell plug tray that is 100% biodegradable. Approved for organic use in Europe, organic growers in North Amercia can look for Fertilpots offered with an OMRI listing under the DOT Pot brand.  William Evans of Fertilpot USA writes that “an important advantage… with Fertilpots is the enhanced ability for a transplant to survive when moved into a landscape with less than desirable soil conditions.”  Hmmm, such as Virginia clay?
    
Fertilpot claims roots penetrate the walls of the Fertilpot easily because of its open composition and porosity. Roots are forced into the surrounding landscape immediately rather than maintaining a tighter clump when grown in a soil-less medium in a plastic plug tray.
    
The question is, will the additional cost of Fertilpots balance the labor cost savings in tray management and the hidden cost of recycling — fuel and time to bundle refuse and go to the agricultural recycling facility? We’re not sure but are planning to trial them this year and will report back. Satisfied with our future plug production strategy, I looked for an equally eco-friendly retail packaging solution.
    
Presently we wrap our bouquets and flowers in floral tissue at our markets, using plastic sleeves on a limited basis for specific crops. We recognize the benefits of wrapping in a more durable material to protect against flower damage during handling and were pleased to find NatureWorks PLA an eco-friendly substitute to waxed tissue paper. Manufactured from corn-based polylactic acid (PLA), NatureWorks PLA floral sleeves compost in approximately 45 days when composted in a commercial composting facility. NatureWorks sleeves are available in a range of sizes and designs from A-Roo Company (www.a-roo.com).
    
This year we are doubling our production at LynnVale Farm, which requires new strategies, services, and products to make our production sustainable and keep the size of our piles from doubling as well.
    
If you wish to obtain a copy of Grower Talks magazine, February, 2008, please call (888) 888-0013. I look forward to seeing you all at our Regional Meeting and until then best of luck this season!