For me, a key ingredient in the perfect Sunday is a
stop stroll through the farmers market. In that tiny space of Columbus Avenue between 77th and 81st Street on the Upper West Side, all my frustration at slow walkers dissipates, and I become one of the rubberneckers turned at a three-quarter profile as I lovingly gaze at the juicy tomatoes, inhale the buckets of brazenly vibrant wildflowers, and risk losing an arm to get a toothpick of white nectarine as a pre-lunch amuse-bouche. In true #sustainable form, I carry my reusable totes and opt out of the bags the stands offer, much to my bafflement, for people who some reason think their stone fruit or greens need to be wrapped in plastic in order to be carried. I like my produce naked.
But even the barest of dinosaur kale, blueberries, and apples come with little accessories. Things like rubber bands, fruit baskets, and vessels for non-produce like fermented food and teas can make a truly no-waste trip to the market feel impossible. Reusing these items for their intended purpose is the most obvious choice, but after a while you can collect quite a bit of produce-waste and start to feel like your momentum toward zero-waste living is reversing.
Rather than give up hope, however, just a bit of gumption and creativity can make those byproducts of our healthiest local foods feel more like a free gift with purchase. And if you’re checking out PD, I bet you have plenty of both of those qualities 🙂 So read on, fellow players on #TeamEarth, and turn this incidental trash into treasure!
Often strapped around enormous bunches of greens, produce rubber bands can be thin and long or thick and squat. Give them a rinse and you have yourself some free office supplies, which you can share at your real office or keep for yourself if you work from home. The thicker bands are also great, interchangeable ways to label unmarked glass jars to hold spices, grains, and other loose/bulk items. I usually have a variety of green, blue, red, and purple bands, and snapping them around the lid or body of a jar can help me differentiate between the array of brown-ish spices I always have on hand. (One dark winter morning, I was packing my breakfast and shook a healthy dose of what I thought was cinnamon on my overnight oats. It was cumin.) Use a mnemonic or other device to help you remember which is which: your favorite color could be the most used spice (for me, that’d be purple=cinnamon), or you could think of properties (red=hot=cayenne, or red=rice).
Green produce cartons
Given their porous nature, these have fewer reuse options because they’re harder to get clean if you have a berry explosion. If you can gently wipe down your cartons to remove any lingering drips or stains, reuse them for other whole, dry goods like medium-sized dry fruit (dates off the stem, apricots, etc., all of which I store in the fridge). When I buy conventional berries in plastic clams, I also prefer to transfer them to the cartons so they can “breathe.” They can transform into a lovely herb-pot or candle holder for the ultimate eco-chic decor, or of course drawer organizers for office supplies, hair accessories, makeup, and other odds-and-ends.
Even if you’re a committed DIY-er of nut butters, milks, and other pantry staples, you’ll probably acquire more glass jars than you can use at any one time. Stashing a few on the side for holiday gifts is great, but you can also cut off the supply-demand chain all together by returning those jars to the farmers themselves. I recently asked one of the owners of a stand I buy from regularly about returning some oddly shaped jars his product comes in, and he said he’d gladly take them back and give me 10 cents for each one! Not only does this let me support a local vendor, but I save him money and supplies in the long-run, too.
Let’s say you’re browsing your market on a cool autumn day and feel like some homemade apple cider would be the thing to make your outing. But you’ve forgotten your travel mug and need to use a paper cup. While I pray this never happens to you, we’re all human and giving into spontaneous cravings like cider is hardly a punishable offense. Take the sleeve of your cup and use it as you did your rubber bands for larger jars, or if you won’t be able to remember a color-coding system and need to write yourself notes. These sleeves can also double as gift-tags for DIY jar gifts, or a sleeve for your own glass cups or jars if you make a drink at home. Save them to pack glass or other breakables when you move, or cut them into strips for recycled gift-box filler.
Similar to rubber bands but potentially less useful, these combine metal and paper so they’re less sturdy, and more easily stained and water-logged especially when tied around greens. Try to avoid produce tied with them, but if you do find a hidden one those strips of wire are most useful for things like holiday decorations. Use them to attach leaves or other pieces of nature to gifts or tablescapes, or to make your own wreath. Remove the paper all together, give them a fresh coat of paint (nail polish is great), and use them again to tie up bags of goodies or attach gift tags.
Unattractive parts of food
Enormous bunches of beets, carrots, and other root vegetables can sometimes come with less-IG-worthy wobbly bits: those stringy roots or somewhat wilted leaves that are separate from the “real” produce. This past week, I was asked if I wanted my beet greens removed from my stalk, and I was truly aghast! Don’t think you’re off the hook with food refuse just because you bought your food locally. Use every part, not only to save waste but also because things like beet greens are even more nutritious than the actual beet!
What are your favorite farmer’s market tips?
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Photos: Jennifer Kurdyla