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Women In Ag: Consumers Cause Food Waste on the Farm
I clean out my refrigerator once a week. Every week, I toss out leftovers that weren’t eaten, produce I forgot was in the drawer, and food that passed its expiration date before I worked it into our menu.
It turns out, my kitchen isn’t the only place I’m creating food waste.
This week, I was part of a group touring a strawberry farm that sells berries to a number of retail chains. The focus of the tour was food safety, but as I walked between rows of strawberries, I couldn’t help but notice pretty red berries lying on the ground.
Why weren’t these strawberries in a clamshell? Thinking they might be bruised, I picked up a few, but couldn’t find obvious damage. The mystery of why these strawberries weren’t on their way to a grocery store deepened.
Finally, I asked the tour guide. His answer was completely unexpected. “How many strawberries are in a 1-pound clamshell?” he asked us. Depending on the size of the berry, he told us that one clamshell will have between 12 and 28 strawberries.
These beautiful, red, ripe strawberries lying on the ground between rows were too small. It would take approximately 40 berries of that size to make a 1-pound clamshell, and consumers don’t want that. As a result, retail chains won’t buy flats with clamshells that have more than 28 strawberries.
With no market, workers pick the small, ripe berries and toss them on the ground. All because consumes – that’s you and me – don't want to buy smaller strawberries.
This farm only sells strawberries commercially. We asked if having a pick-your-own operation would create a market for the smaller berries. Turns out, it won’t. Farmers who sell pick-your-own and commecially keep those fields separate. There are a number of reasons for this, but the main one is food safety.
This is just one more way consumers affect what happens on the farm.