Recycle It

An inspiring essay that extols the benefits of using recycled materials to restore a small farmstead.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Americans create 245 million tons of waste a year, about 20% of that is food.


Recycling the farm

A very savvy friend of mine told me upon our first meeting many years ago;

If you’re not making a good material living in this country (USA)-then you’re looking in the wrong dumpsters!”

 His statement was true then, and it remains even more true to this day. My family and I have lived well through the art of recycling, and I do mean art. Most of the resource wealth that is squandered and wasted in this country is the result of an unconscious disconnect from the sourcing process, poor resource and inventory planning, and simple laziness. Nowhere is this more true than in the construction industry.

Managing farm start-up costs  

"If it’s not free, it costs too much!”

Getting a new farm up and operating successfully is going to largely depend on keeping start up costs well in check. When we moved to our farm, every building was in need of major work. Some could be rebuilt, but others had to be torn down, including our biggest barn. There was not a fit shelter for either human or farm animal on our eleven acres. The conventional cost of making the place livable could have ended our farming career before we ever really got started.

Gathering up the resources 

In preparation for this major farm building makeover, we began to gather up a robust resource pile of recycled lumber, pipe, blocks, bricks, stones, fence posts, windows, foam-board insulation, doors, metal roofing, gutters, and much more. Over the years we had befriended a couple of small mom and pop contractors, and their waste stream from remodeling and new construction work yielded us truckloads of useable material. We supplemented this treasure with salvage excursions along the riverbanks of the Tennessee River, using a home-built barge to transport dismantled docks, boathouses, and on occasion, choice pieces of derelict houseboats and cabin cruisers. 

Other sources of used & new materials 

Other good sources of building materials are temporary construction "solid fill sites" where piles of gravel, sand, used blocks, bricks and stone are dumped to provide an eventual building base, and also the dumpsters placed at construction sites. Sunday morning is my favorite time as the dumpster contains the previous week's "waste." We euphemistically refer to Sunday salvage as “going to church.” There is amazing stuff in these dumpsters, and it changes from week to week as the job progresses. An added bonus is that it's new, unused material thrown in the dumpster because it is viewed as either “extra” or left over “scrap,” which would otherwise end up in a landfill. Included in this category are masonry products, nails and screws, lumber, (including large pieces of plywood and framing material), metal roofing, gutters and downspouts, wiring, plumbing materials, and lots of aluminum cans (recycled to cover our gas costs). Restoring our farm infrastructure with recyled materials not only gives us conversational teaching topics, but allows us to keep our seed money for actually buying and planting the seeds.

Involving the neighbors

Moving into a new location and resurrecting a former farm usually sends a ripple of curiosity through the local community. An increase in weekend road traffic on our dead end road indicates that the neighbors are coming over for a look-see. A few of them have noticed our driveway is full of neatly stacked piles of lumber, fence posts, bricks, masonary stones, and firewood. This in turn inspires a few of them to stop by and comment, "I see you folks recycle." They then offer us items that they might have stored away for some future use, but never got around to incorporating into their own farm or homestead. Besides ending up with some very useful materials and items, we have also become friends with a number of people through these driveway interactions.

Recycling our produce packaging 

The neighbors that become our customers are encouraged to return the packaging we provide for our products. This includes egg cartons, paper bags & small boxes, and honey and milk share jars. Besides helping us hold down costs, which translates into a customer savings, it teaches people to consider other ways to reuse and recycle their packaging material.