Before we could begin our sustainability initiative we needed a definition. After much searching we decided to embrace the definition developed by the World Commission on Environment and Development.
Sustainability is defined as “forms of progress that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”. This simple but effective definition helps us focus on the main issue which is balancing today with the future.
We started with 4 core beliefs:
1. Consumers want to buy produce from farmers who are pursuing realistic sustainability initiatives.
2. Retailers want to have growers in their supply chain who understand the importance of sustainability and who are making it a corporate imperative.
3. Employees want to work for growers that act responsibly and are addressing sustainability issues. We believe an effective sustainability program increases employee engagement and will help to attract and retain key talent.
4. We can really make a difference with our sustainability program.
Our Sustainability Program
Land usage: Greenhouses are by definition far more efficient than raw land…some estimates run as high as 10-20 times more efficient. In addition, by building our greenhouse on land unsuitable for conventional farming we don’t remove valuable arable land from the food chain.
Water usage: We use far less water than convention field farming. Firstly each plant has its own dedicated watering tube. This allows highly focused watering as only the roots are feed thus eliminating much of the water evaporation common in field produce. Rain water is captured and surplus irrigation water is re-cycled.
Carbon Footprint: By burning biomass we prevent it going to a landfill where it would generate methane which is a very harmful gas. We estimate we are now carbon neutral.
Herbicides: No herbicides are used on our farm.
Food safety: There has been much press coverage over the last few years about contamination which has imperiled the safety of the public. In the most serious cases consumers have died from both onsite and offsite contaminates reaching the consumer through consumption of produce. Food safety is a mission critical part of our greenhouse environment. All employees must pass through both hand and shoe sterilizers before entering the greenhouse. Access is controlled by scanning to ensure only registered employees have access to the greenhouse. We have never had an incident of contamination and with all the safe guards in place we don’t expect to.
Re-cycling: All boxes purchased for packing our produce are made from re-cycled cardboard. In addition all waste cardboard is sent offsite to be re-cycled.
Pest management: Our greenhouse employs an integrated pest management system whereby good bugs keep those harmful to the plant in check.
Surplus produce: We have an arrangement with the local food bank to provide fresh but unsalable produce during out season. The addition of fresh produce helps with the nutritional balance of canned and packaged foods commonly dispensed by food banks.
We have also deployed a composting program and are exploring developing several “value added” food products to our mix.
Employees: While we only grow produce 8 months of the year, many employees are kept on all year long and involved in duties associated with both cleaning out the old crop and planting the new one.
Retailers: The ability to align our efforts with those of our retail and wholesale customers has a multiplier effect on sustainability.
Consumers: Consumers are very much aware that our planet’s resources are finite. They monitor the sustainability programs of those the retailers they buy from and the growers who supply the retailers. We hope they will find comfort that we treat sustainability very seriously.
Summary: The food industry is a very high profile one. Everyone shops and everyone eats so the food industry can continually get up close and personal with every consumer. This means the industry can not only educate the consumer about their sustainability goals and strategies but can also encourage the consumer to develop their own sustainability initiatives. We are proud to be part of this important industry.
The 3rd generation of our family is now growing up on the farm and we aim to be good stewards of their future.