"From acres of sheeting to miles of twine, farms use billions of pounds of plastic each year. What can we do to reduce the impact?"
“Seed trays, drip tape, mulch film, water pipes, hoop house covers, twine, hose, fertilizer bags, totes, tool handles and everything we use to keep ourselves dry.” On a rainy March afternoon, Kara Gilbert, co-owner of Vibrant Valley Farm, rattles off how plastics are used on the farm as she stamps mud off her boots.
On a visit to the four-acre farm on lush Sauvie Island at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers near Portland, Oregon, Gilbert gives me a tour de farm plastics. The fields are just being readied for the season, but black plastic is already laid out under a hoop house. PVC water pipes are being set into place and drip irrigation tape is ready to be deployed, as are plastic sacks of fertilizer. Out in the greening field, little orange-pink plastic plant tags on ankle-high stakes flap in the wet breeze to mark rows of just-sprouted peas.
By farming standards, this is a tiny operation. It sells organic produce to 15 or so local restaurants and through community-supported-agriculture shares, and grows flowers it sells wholesale. But even this small farm, Gilbert says, spends between $4,000 and $6,000 on plastic every year. Maybe more. It’s an environmental trade-off, she explains: Using plastic means saving water.