Due to a surplus of produce this season, the Kenyon Farm has begun composting excess fruits and vegetables. Over the past few years, the Farm, which sells its produce to Peirce Dining Hall and customers in Mount Vernon, has increased its production significantly, to the point that its supply now outweighs its demand. The Farm now has to consider alternative uses for its produce.
Ryan Hottle, Kenyon Farm Manager and professor of environmental science, says that the situation is not unusual. It’s difficult for the Farm to gauge demand for its produce, and easy to over-plant any given crop. He did, however, note that the concept of “food waste” is different for fresh produce than for food already on store shelves.
“From an environmental perspective, it’s not nearly as bad as transporting that produce, processing it, cooking it, delivering it to the consumer and then it results in waste,” Hottle said. “That said, do we want to be picking high-quality produce, letting it sit for several days and then throwing it in the compost? No. That’s never the ideal.”
The Farm has updated its production systems over the past few years. A pair of “high tunnels” — arched growing structures — make it easier for the Farm to grow tomatoes and peppers, and a recent investment in storage bins has allowed them to harvest and transport produce more efficiently. In addition, the Farm has purchased a tractor, which has cut the time needed to till fields from four days to less than one.
Despite these advancements — and partly because of them — the Farm is now experiencing problems with overproduction. The Farm is capable of producing large amounts of produce, but does not have the refrigeration necessary to store certain fruits and vegetables for extended periods of time. While some vegetables such as potatoes, onions and squashes can keep for months at a time in a cool indoor setting, others, like lettuce and tomatoes, need refrigeration within 24 hours of being harvested. The Farm does possess refrigerators, but they are primarily reserved for storing the Farm’s eggs.
The Farm is already planning to take a number of measures that they hope will reduce wasted produce. Hottle hopes to have additional refrigeration installed in the near future, and plans to rethink the Farm’s composting system so that composted vegetables can be put to better use.
In addition, the Farm intends to host more “U-Pick” events, where members of the Kenyon community can come to the Farm and pick their own produce. Hottle expects that this will reduce the uncertainty in estimating demand for produce.