What’s in the package?

I started searching for our ice cream packaging yesterday, what I thought would be a pretty straight forward search for pretty images led me to 10 hours of background research reading!  I found the ‘look’ I want for our packages right away: simple, clean, with a little down home flair, just like our ice cream. What do you think?

Ice cream packaging

Since we are striving for ecologically sound farming, we want our packaging to reflect those high standards too. This is where it got complicated!

We plan to use glass for our milk caramel sauce, but am concerned about using it with the ice cream as it is more brittle when frozen, so I started looking at plastic options.

Compostable vs Recycleable vs Biodegradable

I initially thought simply: petroleum bad, compostable good. But when I dug into it, like most things there are tradeoffs: compostable & biodegradeable tie into the throw-away mentality of using lots of energy and resources to only be used once. However recycling rates are terribly low (only ~30%), but if people choose to recycle there is less energy used and keeps from having new raw materials (which in the case of corn-based plastic (PLA) are another competing use of food acres), and unfortunately the compostable containers can’t currently be recycled (this can changed with increased demand). Compostable also has the challenge of often not breaking down in backyard compost or in the landfill if it ends up there, so it is only marginally better in our current system because few cities offer composting options. However, being sourced from renewable sources and having the potential to breakdown makes compostable containers appealing.

Health impacts

When considering plastics, I wanted to make sure we minimized our contribution to the health burden of endocrine disrupting compounds, as most plastics are problematic, particularly from BPA or phthalates. If you haven’t heard of them, they are what make many plastics pliable and are found in everything from cosmetics, to paints, to our food. For plastics, the compostable containers using PLA liners seem to be the winners here as they have no known direct health impacts.

New to me was that dairy products were continually higher in phthalates than most other foods, even with phthalate-free packaging. This is particularly important for ice cream because the fats attract the chemicals even more. Researchers looked at the full dairy supply chain and found that plastics used throughout milking and processing contributed, particularly the transfer tubing. To reduce the amounts in our milk, we already are buying recycled wall coatings, and now will be finding ways to reduce the contact of the milk with all plastics, and those required will be phthalate-free (such as these milk hoses).

What should we use?

After weighing the options, our top pick for our ice cream is currently the compostable container made from renewable resources.  And what we are thinking for the caramel sauce glass with a HDPE lid.

What would you like to see in packaging? Have you seen other options?

Mind the GAP

It’s not the subway or even a thigh gap but Good Agricultural Practices Training, the first of a two day training on developing Food Safety Plans for our farm. It was great to chat with our fellow farmers, but otherwise not much fun, but it will soon be required by the FDA and we did learn a few things.

One thing that may surprise many new farmers is the amount of paperwork in farming! Some of it is a great idea to help us make better decisions on the farm. Others are just for the regulators and rather a waste on a small farm. But the auditors, lawyers & regulators mantra is “if you didn’t write it down, it didn’t happen” So we get templates for bathroom cleaning (even if it is the one in the house), and employee training (even if it is just the family), and lot codes (even if we have one field).  This is a great reason to meet your fellow farmers and brainstorm, there are some great simply ways to keep these records and I’m hoping maybe some phone apps come out from some techo-savey farmers. Some checklists and basic forms that can be tied to invoicing, and all kept on the cloud instead of me trying to organize a bunch of papers. I’ll post our plan and forms as soon as they are finalized.

A final thought: To comply with the new FDA regs, they estimate it will cost small growers 6% of their gross sales. Most farms don’t even profit 6%. Couple this with that small farmers are not what is causing the food illnesses, and it is yet another set of regulations that will make it harder to be a direct market farmer. You cannot regulate in ethics. To me the best method to ensure food safety, humane animal care, it transparency and that is what we strive for here. You are welcome at the farm any time, unannounced, to see for yourself how things are done.  And bottom line, we eat this food too, probably before most of our customers do, so we have every reason to provide for you as we provide for our family.

But we plan to continue on and hope to still spend most our time with farm rather than the paper!

January ‘to do’ list

You may think as farmers we get to take it easy in the winter, but in winter it’s just different!  Chores don’t take too long (unless we have to dig everyone out of the snow), but winter is when we reflect, plan, and prepare for the new year.  This year there is so much to get ready so we can grow! Here’s a glimpse into my to do list (complete with beverages and toddler additions):

Computer, calender, to do list for planning

There is always more to learn as a farmer, that is my favorite part! In the next two months I have 16 hours of farm law webinars, 8 hour Recipe to Reality, 16 hours of Good Ag Practice trainings, the two day NSAS conference, 2 books and 5 sets of regulations to read (which are each a book in themselves!). Then apply all those to what needs done.

Production planning: compile and review records from last year, complete taxes. Set our livestock plans and schedule for the year, then order chicks, reserve processing dates.

Barn building: apply for zoning variance, upgrade insurance, research equipment, finalize blueprints & get them approved, start site prep, flag out building

It’s also the season to go out and visit my farmer friends and share stories, tips, and good times 🙂  We are seeking out lots of advisers for our barn build, already planned for this month: three dairy farmers, 4 construction folks, 3 regulators, 2 university faculty, and our lawyer, accountant, graphic designer, banker and insurance.

Who said farming is a lonely business!!