Two weeks ago Faye and I found ourselves on a very early morning farmers’ market run. The intention had merely been to get out of the apartment where we’d been trying our best not to annoy the downstairs neighbor since 6 am. I took off with her vaguely in the direction of coffee and a muffin and ended up at the farmers’ market. Having left the house in something of a hurry, we weren’t what you might call market-ready. We didn’t have bags or baskets, but we did have a stroller and so I did what any mildly enthusiastic zero-waste wannabe would do and began to fill the undercarriage of the stroller with market goodies: strawberries and chamomile and handfuls of loose sugar snap peas, heaved haphazardly to mingle with the playground sand and whatever else finds its way into the under belly of a city stroller. As I was strolling off with Faye, a neighborly woman stopped me after noticing that I hadn’t availed myself of the plastic bags on offer at the farmer’s stand. What, she wondered was I going to do with my loot once I returned home?
“Do you have containers for all of that?” “Bags?” “Where will it end up?”
So, here I am. Two weeks and a fresh farmers’ market haul later, with a brief description of how I store fresh produce without single-use plastic. I’ve not done rigorous tests to be certain that my techniques are the best techniques. But they work for me, they keep my veggies and herbs fresh until I’m able to use them, and the process from market to fridge is swift, painless, and doesn’t require anything in the way of special equipment.
I give fresh herbs or hardy greens a quick wash once I return home. I follow the bath with a quick wrapping in a clean cloth dishtowel or napkin—forming a neat packet with cloth. I find that the towel does a great job at the keeping the greens sufficiently moist without getting too soggy. (In case you’re tempted to take a slightly lazy route, I have found that the wash is, indeed, crucial. Herbs or greens taken directly from hot market stand to dishtowel don’t hold up for me nearly as well as those that get a fresh bath upon returning home.)
The jury’s out on whether it’s a good idea to wash things like strawberries directly upon returning home, but with a hungry three-year old in the apartment who has recently learned to open the fridge by propping her foot on the adjacent cabinet and leveraging her full body weight against the door, I’ve found that washing directly is better. Whether it’s strawberries or grapes or leftover portions of pasta salad, I almost always have at least one of my covered stainless steel bowl in my fridge for storage. I love this simple set we bought a few years ago, but anything with a lid will do.
For loose salad greens, I start by trying my best to frequent the farm stands that allow me to fill up my own bag with their mix of baby greens instead of pre-bagging them for me. When I get home, I give them a swish in cool water, a whirl through the salad spinner, and more often than not, I store them directly in the bowl of the spinner until I’m ready to use them.
I often use a wide-mouthed mason jar to store veggies I’d like to stay crisp: things like carrots and scallions, spring onions and asparagus keep beautifully in a open mason jar filled with just an inch or so of water. Some veggies, like carrots, benefit from a bit of beeswrap or a lid on top to keep moisture and crispness in.
When I go to the market prepared, I use an assortment of cloth bags to carry my smaller veggies. I’m not terribly precious about them and don’t mind if they get dirty, but if they do, a quick swipe of a stain-removing soap bar gets them clean again. In other words, yes, sometimes I shock the strawberry farmer at the market by refusing his plastic and brazenly dumping my strawberries into a cloth bag. Cheap thrills. Once home and depending on the vegetables, I might keep the veggies in their cloth bag in the crisper. Heads of broccoli, handfuls of mushrooms, even those little summer squashes get paired together in a bag—for freshness, but also for organization plain and simple.
And, of course, sometimes I fail at all of this. Sometimes I can’t make it the market where I get my greens in bulk and so I end up with a plastic bag. Sometimes I let my fresh herbs turn to brittle stalks in the crisper. Sometimes I order pizza knowing perfectly well that there’s a salad’s worth of greens that are threatening mutiny if I don’t eat them. The point is to encourage, not to shame. If you have a brilliant fresh vegetable solution of your own, please share.
If you’re curious about other zero waste adventures, there’s more here.