A Gentle Suggestion for the Cooperative Extension

This spring, I got a letter from the SDSU Cooperative Extension Service, indicating that they’d like to send us a bunch of free bags for our farmers market.

The bags are printed with instructions to “Wash Fruits and Vegetables Before Serving,” and they’re being provided to markets throughout the state as part of a food safety initiative. Later on, they want to send us a bunch of surveys to find out if the message “stuck” with our customers.

I said, “Sure!” because, you know, free stuff from the state is cool! Especially for our little market!

Here’s what I got in the mail a couple weeks later:

Cooperative Extension Bags

Cooperative Extension Bags

This is a 48lb. box of plastic. It contained approximately 1500 plastic bags, plus a bunch of handouts about washing fruits and veggies printed on cardstock. And when I opened it, I thought, Oh. Oh no. In saying yes to this, I have said yes to raping and littering the planet.

Maybe I was being a little over-dramatic, but 48 pounds of plastic bags is more than our market will likely use in five years! And it also occurs to me that, if they want to get a message out that people will remember, why didn’t they print it on something that people would hold onto?

Many of our customers at the farmers market bring their own bags these days. They actually feel guilty if they forget their bags and have to take a plastic one. I’ve seen people putting cukes in their purses to avoid yet another plastic bag. For goodness sake–entire countries have banned the use of plastic bags!

A quote from the CNN article here:

Often, the flimsy bags are used once and discarded, adding to waste in a country grappling with air and water pollution as a result of rapid economic transformation, officials said.

“Our country consumes a large amount of plastic bags. While convenient for consumers, the bags also lead to a severe waste of resources and environmental pollution because of their excessive use and low rate of recycling,” the statement at the Web site Gov.cn said. “The ultra-thin bags are the main source of ‘white’ pollution as they can easily get broken and end up as litter.”

The government statement added, “We should encourage people to return to carrying cloth bags, using baskets for their vegetables.”

Congratulations, China, for being a world leader in environmental policy!

Not only do many of our customers bring their own bags, our farmers market has a new vendor (she’ll hopefully be coming more regularly now that VAAC Art Camp is ending) who is making lovely up-cycled grocery and tote bags from all kinds of fabulous remnants and doilies and table linens she finds in thrift shops.

Would you prefer plastic, or this?

Handmade Bag by Susan Heggestad

Handmade Bag by Susan Heggestad

Now, it’s not that we don’t appreciate free stuff from the state. Believe me, we’re happy to be getting some recognition and help! And we appreciate all the free advice and support that our extension agents have given throughout the years.

But my gentle suggestion is this–don’t send us 1500 plastic bags that will end up in rivers, streams, fields, and landfills. Send us 50 cloth bags that we can use as a giveaway promotion for our regular customers (or just customers who forgot their bag that day), and those bags and the message they’re printed with will continue to show up at the market and around town–and not because they were blown into trees by the wind or scattered by the roadside when they sailed out a car window.

Heck, they’re even making bags out of recycled plastic soda bottles now. So, if you get a little more grant money for a project like this, and you want your message to endure in consumer’s minds, put the message on an enduring and reusable product that will also provide markets with a cool “freebie” to reward their customers. It will probably also cost a lot less in shipping!


3 responses to this post.

  1. If you can pass them on, it would be a wonderful reminder for people who visit the Welcome Table–and we go through many (recycled) bags there every week.

  2. Posted by flyingtomato on July 18, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    I will talk to the market board and see if we can’t get you guys a sheaf of them!


  3. This is a great post, Rebecca, not simply because you’ve featured my bags (but thanks for that!). It’s such a simple thing to do – to stop using plastic bags. I wonder if a “progressive” city like Vermillion would ever pass an ordinance to ban plastic? Might be worth some looking into…

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