The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

January 22, 2010

Finally! My Temescal Farmers’ Market’s Gone Plastic-Free.

Temescal Farmers MarketThey said they’d do it, and now Urban Village Farmers Markets has finally banned plastic bags! Originally scheduled to go into effect on October 1, the ban was pushed to January of this year to give vendors time to research their options and prepare for the change over. Beginning this month, a sign greets patrons as they enter the market informing them of the change and encouraging shoppers to bring their own reusable bags.

How do I feel? Um… just thinking about it makes me dance a little jig and channel KC & the Sunshine Band: “That’s the way, uh huh uh huh, I like it, uh huh uh huh!”

It’s up to vendors to decide how they will handle giving up plastic bags. While the market encourages customers to bring their own bags and skip disposables altogether, some vendors, like Catalan Family Farm, have invested in compostable GMO-free BioBags as an alternative for those who forget.

Temescal Farmers Market

Temescal Farmers Market

Twin Girls Farm, on the other hand, offers paper bags but encourages customers to skip disposable bags altogether by first placing their produce into pre-weighed reusable plastic baskets,  whose weight is then deducted from the total weight of the purchase.  Customers can then empty their produce directly into their own reusable bags.

Temescal Farmers Market

Some vendors have never used plastic in the first place. While there are several bread vendors at the Temescal Market who package  their baked goods in plastic bags, Feel Good Bakery from Alameda has always used paper bags.

Temescal Farmers Market

Other vendors have been slower to get on the plastic-free bandwagon, presumably in an effort to use up the plastic bags they already have. How can you tell a plastic bag from a compostable bag? A plastic bag will generally be made from HDPE and will have the “chasing arrows” symbol on it.

Temescal Farmers Market

Some vendors have refused to invest in biodegradable bags of any sort. Ame Guseman from Rainbow Orchards, for example.

Temescal Farmers Market

Before you judge her, check out what she sells instead: handmade reusable bags made from old T-shirts. And unlike most producers of T-shirt bags, Ame gets five bags out of one shirt. Calling her creations “Baygs,” Ame demonstrates her ingenious idea in this video shot at the Alameda Farmers Market.

Similarly, Danny Lazzarini from Happy Boy Farms makes and sells handmade produce bags whose materials are repurposed from thrift shop finds. “We have enough of everything already in this world,” she told me. “We need to start reusing!”

Temescal Farmers Market

Temescal Farmers Market

Danny had a lot more to share with me about the new policy (she prefers that word to “ban”) and the customers’ reactions to it. Working for a farm whose main offering is salad greens presents unique challenges. Danny says that in a plastic bag, Happy Boy’s greens are guaranteed to last 7 days. BioBags will not work, as they fall apart quickly. And customers want the convenience of buying one bag of greens and having them last all week long. What’s more, BioBags are expensive. One plastic bag costs less than a penny, whereas BioBags cost 20 cents a piece. For the farmer, it’s a financial hardship to try and sell mixed greens without plastic.

Still, Danny is passionate about reducing our dependence on disposable plastic. As a scuba diver, she has seen for herself how much plastic pollutes our oceans, and she does everything she can to encourage customers to switch to cloth bags like the ones she makes, consolidate their purchases into one bag, or to bring their own containers to the market. Whereas previously, she would hang rolls of plastic bags in multiple spots throughout Happy Boy’s space, she now hangs one roll over the salad greens only.

Temescal Farmers Market

Yet even after taking these steps, Danny estimates that Happy Boy customers consume about 3,000 bags in one day. She says that the plastic bags are her least favorite part of this job that she loves.

Before plastic, I suggested, shoppers would buy produce more often. Or they would eat the more fragile produce in the beginning of the week and eat the heartier vegetables later. Danny agreed but also shared that it’s hard to convince people to go back to that way of living. Before the no-plastic policy went into effect, Danny even heard a customer say that she had switched from the Berkeley Farmers Market to Temescal simply because she could still get plastic bags there.  Many customers “have a sense of entitlement.”

And whether or not Urban Village is successful in switching away from plastic produce bags, there are still many vendors who pre-package their products in plastic.  Cheese, tofu, sandwich spreads, and nuts come in plastic bags and containers.  Boxes are lined with plastic.  Meats are shrink-wrapped in the stuff.

Temescal Farmers Market

Temescal Farmers Market

It will be a while before farmers get beyond plastic entirely. We can help them by speaking up. Bringing our own bags and containers. Thanking the ones that offer alternatives to plastic and asking those who don’t to make the switch. Here are some of my suggestions:

Temescal Farmers Market

1) Put most produce directly into a cavas bag without using any produce bag.
2) Buy berries and cherry tomatoes in green plastic baskets and then return them to the farmer each week to be reused.
3) Bring egg cartons back to the farmer each week to be reused.
4) Carry home salad/stir fry greens in a cloth produce bag and transfer them to a metal bowl with dampened cloth over the top. Eat them early in the week.
5) Store fruits in large bowls in the refrigerator. No need for bags.
6) Store carrots in a container of water in the refrigerator.
7) Purchase loose nuts and dried fruits in cloth produce bags and store in glass jars in the refrigerator.

In an effort to help farmers and customers learn to buy and store food without plastic, the Berkeley Ecology Center has developed a printable guide: How To Store Fruits and Vegetables, Tips & Tricks to Extend the Life of Your Produce Without Plastic. The guide has storage suggestions for almost every type of vegetable or fruit you can think of.

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11 years ago

We are farmers, and we run a farmstand right at our farm in a non-urban area. Thank you for this article.

We sell salad mix in plastic ziplocks, which I would love to get away from, but as mentioned above, it is not cost effective (the product does not last or remain sanitary) in any other packaging. That doesn’t mean we won’t continue to seek other options!

Our customers have been trained to bring us bags of all their one-use plastic grocery bags. In over ten years of business, we have never purchased any type of shopping bags for customers, and exclusively use recycled shopping bags. We get enough of these donations to also package all our wholesale produce for deliveries, in these second-hand plastic bags. Noone has ever complained about this or asked for a virgin bag.

I would not be surprised if we actually received the same bag back from a customer more than once.

Many of our customers, when they remember to bring it, shop with a beautiful large wicker basket, or a picnic basket, or large cloth or straw bags, like beach bags, that are reusable.

Thanks for these great ideas and discussion. I am definitely going to make some cloth bags to sell at our little market. Keep up the good work, Beth!

12 years ago

They should call it Fake Green Farmers Markets….because its just a simple way for them to get in the news.

12 years ago

Just went to the urban village farmers market in Oakland today and noticed more then half of those farmers are still using plastic bags. This is not just in this market but many other markets that claim to have drop the plastic bag habit.

What gives? is it just a marketing ploy that these markets push out there so they can get in the news? Granted there are some farmers that do not supply plastic bags, but there are just too many that do not abide by the market rules. Either they hang them right in front of the stand or they have them hidden in boxes in back and just pass it out to customers when the managers aren’t looking .Also whats up with these plastic bags that have printed biodegradable on it? You can obviously tell that it is a plastic bag.

Sorry…..I am just tired of too many companies and organizations claiming to be green but not following through with what they pledge. I urge you Beth to follow up with this farmer market organization and other markets to see what is really going on before you put your good name and belief behind them. If you have time visit the Oakland farmers market on Friday morning and you will see what I am talking about.

Best of luck with your mission!!!!

12 years ago

I am definitely taking this to my farmers market and lobbying for the same thing! The fruit & vegetable storage suggestions are great too. As I mentioned on my blog. has great produce bags, bread bags etc. & very affordable!

12 years ago

I read this post when first posted, and though “what a great idea! I can’t wait till my farmers market in Las Vegas is plastic free!” The other day at the farmers market, the woman at the farm stand I usually stop by saw my reusable bags and made a comment about how California farmers markets are banning plastic bags. I said that it was good for the environment, and she was saying that it’s hard for some farmers because they need to purchase bio bags, which are pretty expensive. She seemed pretty down about it, so I’ll have to try to make optomistic suggestions like putting up signs to remind people to bring their own bags, etc. But I thought you’d find it interesting that some farmers see the ban as a burden on them… just an interesting perspective.

12 years ago

That’s a good news! I hope every other markets will come across that idea too! As you know plastics contribute to the degradation of the world’s oceans, harm wildlife, and threaten human health.

12 years ago

Hi Beth,

Another thing I forgot to mention is that many of the smaller size paper bags out there are not made at all from recycled material but in fact mostly virgin material, The answer that I got from the paper bag manufacturer is that it is just cheaper to produce it from virgin material. The 40% post consumer paper bags are mainly used for the grocery size bags that we would see at a Whole Foods or Traders Joe. The smaller sizes can come with recycled content but of course only on request and a higher cost.

I am glad that we are seeing the Farmers Market make some change in this situation, but I think the bigger issue lies with the large supermarket and department stores. Why aren’t people demanding more of a change with them. Why can’t we just ban all bags like how Ikea or Costco does. Do we realize how much paper or other types of packaging is also wasted besides plastic bags? Do we realize how many trees or pollutants also go into the manufacturing of the bags? I just don’t see the environmental benefit from it.

I guess what I am trying to say is that we need to encourage the bigger stores to make a change. They are the ones that create the bigger impact on this earth not your local farmer market vendor.

I guess my biggest issue is how people assume that paper or compostable bags are bags are better. In fact they may be the same or worse. Perhaps not in the way that they are flying around everywhere, but maybe in the way they are made or transported.

We must remember one thing. Plastic bags do not magically appear in our oceans or our streets. It takes someone to put it there. With a little bit more education and a little bit more awareness on what we use and how we dispose of things we can make things much better.

Another thing I wonder is why can’t we promote more recycling of plastic bags? Many stores in my area offer a large bin right in front of the store for you to bring back your used plastic bags to be recycled. Increase that to the level of awareness of recycling paper then we will have a much greener earth.

Beth Terry
12 years ago

Hey, Lara, you should see how much used clothing piles up in thrift stores around here. People even leave used clothing out on the street for other people to pick up. And I know that thrift stores often donate what they can’t sell to other countries, so personally, I’m not worried about turning some old T-shirts into bags. Especially T-shirts that might have some sentimental value. You know you won’t wear them again, but if you make bags out of them, you can still look at the design and remember the event where you got the T-shirt.

I donated a whole stack of T-shirts recently but had the sentimental ones made into a quilt so I could still enjoy them even though I knew I’d never wear them because they were the wrong style for me.

Andy, I totally agree with you that we need to either ban or charge a tax for ALL single use bags. Customers need to start bringing their own. That’s just got to be the way it is. And in fact, the vendors at Temescal are trying to encourage customers to do just that.

As far as the thicker bags, it’s not an issue at the farmers market because ALL plastic bags are banned, not just the thin ones. And actually, very few farmers have switched to paper.

Not sure why SF didn’t ban all plastic bags. I wish they had.

Lisa @Retro Housewife Goes Green
12 years ago

Great video! Our farmers market is VERY small and not open much of the year. They still have plastic but almost all of them reuse bags they have gotten from grocery stores and ask people to bring there bags to them so at least they aren’t new bags. That is pretty good for this town lol.

12 years ago

A great step in the right direction. Although I do wonder if all these plastic bag bans that are coming into affect are well thought out enough. The reason being I ask this is because I spoke with a friend of mine who runs a supermarket in the San Francisco area, and he gave me some chilling facts of what has happened since the plastic bag ban.

The reduction of thin plastic bags have gone down greatly, but the use of paper bags and thicker plastic bags have gone up significantly. First off the law that San Francisco made, has a loop hole that allows the use of plastic bags that are made at least 2.25 mils thick. This in turns creates a bag that is essentially three times as thick as the normal plastic bag but still cheaper than compostable and paper bags. Secondly for the paper bag it requires only a 40% post consumer content, so that basically gives us a chance of 60% virgin material. As for compostable bags, his store opted out to not use them because the price is still higher then that of paper and the quality is not up to par to supermarket standards.

Other concerning issues he brought up in our conversation is that the regularity of shipment of paper bags has greatly increased for his store. The reasons that he gave me is because when his store used to use plastic they would have one shipment of plastic bags for every three months. Now with the switch to paper his shipments of bags are once every week. The reason being is because the paper bags are a lot heavier and bulkier then that of plastic, and they simply do not have the storage space and capability to handle the the amount of paper bags needed to run their store. Also an interesting note is that he pointed out is that many customers ask to double up on the paper bag because the handles from the manufacturer tears quite often. Doesn’t this create a significant increase in fuel and oil usage?

We also talked about charging a fee on the bags, but he said that is virtually impossible until all the stores in his area follow with the same rule. He would essentially lose too much customers over it to the competition that is not charging for a bag just a block down the road. Besides, the increase he said is already adjusted into the groceries we buy. A few penny increase here and there and most customers won’t know.

So I ask everyone here is the switch out of plastic to other materials essentially better for the environment? With the increase of trucking and handling for paper bags is that better for the environment? Compostable bags are not much better right now because there are too many companies that do not follow the correct labeling and standards that CA. have set forth, and many cities still have not developed a composting facility?

I guess all I am trying to say is that we are perhaps just attacking the easiest thing to get rid of but not thinking thoroughly about the consequences of what happens on the other end. We must get rid of all single use bags!!! All we are doing is allowing stores and vendors to switch to another material/commodity that are planet makes. It does not solve anything at all. The only true thing to do here is just bring your own bags. As long as stores will provide some type of plastic, paper, or compostable bag there will be always customers that will not learn to bring their own bag. I may sound harsh but i just think we should just ban it all or don’t ban anything at all. We will not learn what we have lost until it is no longer available. It may take some pain in the beginning but at the end it will be so much better.

Lara S.
12 years ago

I’ve had AWESOME results in keeping greens fresh, by wrapping them in newspaper (before washing, so the leave’s surfaces are mostly dry) and placing them in a plastic container with lid (not airtight). The paper has to be slightly humid or dry but not wet. I’ve kept lettuce, arugula and spinach this way for weeks!! Give this a try! After a week or so they will start to turn slightly yellow but the taste will stay good.

I saw the video of making bags out of t-shirts but felt bad about it because the clothes she was using didn’t look worn at all. I think clothes should be donated to people unless they’re really unusable. Bags could be made out of scrap fabric, perhaps…

12 years ago

This is very encouraging. I’ve seen some farmers’ market food vendors (those serving hot cooked meals) using styrofoam. A ban on that is also on my wish list.

12 years ago

Congratulations! If only NYC was the same way, but probably impossible. I’m actually tired of people at work asking me for double and triple bags for 1) things that don’t even fit in the bags and they force it then it rips. 2)Things too heavy but demand more bags to carry the weight (such as a box of 50 set plates! wth???) and 3) for a pair of socks or something tiny.

12 years ago

I’m hoping eventually my farmer’s market will join yours (how awesome are all those tips!), but for now, I’m just thrilled that mine is actually open year round (it’s tricky in Pittsburgh to have local produce in February – grains, apples, cabbages, eggs, and rabbits). I chatted with the nice Amish lady that brings in the yummiest goat milk cheddar cheese (pre vacuum wrapped in plastic, of course), and she’d love to supply me cheese without plastic – but can’t by law. That’s the most frustrating thing in the world, when we’re “protected for our own good”, against our wishes, and at the expense of the planet.

But laws, like people and farmers’ markets, can change for the better :D Beth, your good news keeps me hopeful and smiling, thank you :D

12 years ago

But beware of food regs regarding sale of food in recycled containers. Not always allowed. Especially organic regs.

I would bring my own containers to be refilled but would not leave mine for others to use.

Kristy Medina
12 years ago

Great video. Thanks for sharing this info :)

Erin aka Conscious Shopper
12 years ago

I love, love, love the Berkely Farmers Market tips for storing produce without plastic. I’ve been looking for something like that for forever!

12 years ago

Your pints and quarts don’t have to be plastic. Our are always cardboard.

12 years ago

Yes, great step forward!

Beth Terry (* The speaker, not author of FPF!)
12 years ago

Thanks for the idea on the metal bowl with a cloth over it. I hadn’t thought of that. I never liked plastic bags anyway, it seemed the produce got old quickly, and I was always forgetting what I had. It pains me to throw out fresh produce.

I had a nightmare at a holiday party. A friend walked in the door with a huge case of plastic water bottles and had them apart and in the cooler before I saw it. So I made sure they went into the recycle bin — but then decided to go one step further. I got creative and used all 24 bottles for my plants. I poked holes in the caps with an awl, cut the bottom of the bottles open with a knife. Then i buried the bottles head first around the edges of my big plants in and outside the house. Only about an inch of the bottles stick out. I fill the bottles with water and they drip water my plants. Hey – sometimes you can’t fight’em, so you get creative!

Congrats on your success with the Farmers Market!
The Other Beth

12 years ago

Look at those gorgeous fresh oranges! They don’t grow around here (NC), so we would not see them at our market, but I bet they are delicious!

Going plastic-free will be like turning the Titanic at our market. Most of our vendors are older folks, and so are the majority of the customers. Baby steps! Thanks for so many pictures…I’m going to watch the video now.

The Green Cat
12 years ago

Thanks for sharing this Beth. I always bring my own bags to the farmers market but I hate the amount of plastic bags I see there. It’s funny because I just naturally assume that the kind of folks who would shop at the market are the kind of folks who would bring their own bags and eschew plastic!

I particularly love the video of Ame showing how to make produce bags out of old shirts. I’m gearing up to start buying certain items from bulk bins and so I’m going to have to make myself a bunch of bags for that.

12 years ago

How fortunate you are to be living in a city where people care and make an effort to slowly change their ways!! Great post. By the way, I just made a t-shirt bag after watching the video link you posted. I sewed mine by hand, but it was worth it….a great activity for my elementary aged girls.

I saved the link regarding how to store fresh fruits and veggies w/out the plasstic bags…very useful information.

Christi Spangler
12 years ago

Excellent! I’m dancing right beside you! I’m so glad to hear about any and all activities to recuce and eliminate our use of plastic bags!

12 years ago

I find that if I chop & wash my greens right away, I can store them in my fridge in my salad spinner all week with no problems! Then they are always ready to go for however I want to eat them.
Last summer I helped out at my local market and found that while we did go through quite a few plastic bags, at least half of the patrons brought their own bags or baskets of some kind. I may have to do some research to find out who to suggest this ‘no-plastics’ rule to, what a great idea!

Linda Anderson
12 years ago

These are great suggestions. I’m going to send them to the manager of our local farmers market. I’ll even volunteer to help with the no plastic campaign. It seems to me the customers at a farmers market should be amenable to new and healthier options.

The Raven
12 years ago

Fabulous! I’m about to forward this information to the administrators of the local farmers’ markets here in DC. Given that the DC area is at the moment–depending on the locality–either charging for disposable bags or considering charging for disposable bags in certain situations (not produce, etc.), this seems like an ideal time to make the change! Thanks for passing this along.

Pure Mothers
12 years ago

How awesome! I don’t see why the customers who still want plastic don’t bring the plastic bags back from the previous week for a refill! Just reuse them! It’s tough to change the disposable mentality.

akiko kanna jones
12 years ago

How great to see one more farmers’ market became plastic free! This is exactly what I wan to see in my town.
I am planning to set up a table to pass out flyers to the shoppers to encourage to bring their own reusable bags. If anyone have suggestions and tips for me, please post here. Thanks!

12 years ago

I am so glad to hear that your farmer’s market has gone plastic-free. Mine is still far away from that, although I do my best to avoid plastic myself. Your suggestions are all so great, and I think that with a little effort we could all reduce our plastic significantly, even if we find it too difficult to eliminate it completely.

12 years ago

I guess vendors are in a tough spot. People are slow to change, as a general rule, and are more likely to go out of their way to be surrounded with what’s familiar rather than try something new. Hm. The CSA that I belong to provides their members with produce in coated cardboard boxes that they reuse throughout the season. But they do provide plastic bags at the farmer’s market. Yes, folks are encourages to bring reusable bags, but some of the farmers’ business comes from folks who spontaneously stop by, and don’t have bags with them.

Great blog. Thank you!