Tuesday, August 9, 2011


No, I didn't forget the password to my own blog.  I've just been on the road an awful lot lately.  Probably unique among bloggers (and among 99.9% of residents of the 21st century), almost everything you see here is first written in long hand (although sadly not in oak gall ink - something I intend to remedy).  I have a backlog of ink waiting to be turned into pixels.

During a recent visit to our local coop I noticed a new product: Paper plates made from wheat fiber.  The label trumpeted the fact that, "No trees were cut down to make these plates," and claimed that this fact made them, "The first sustainable paper plate."  As both a forester and a champion of woody agriculture this claim struck me odd at first.  Converting a product from a woody perennial crop - which requires minimal soil disturbance when planted, no soil disturbance and minimal inputs for years, and then minimal soil disturbance at harvest - to an cereal crop - which requires soil pulverizing activity on an annual basis - doesn't exactly seem "sustainable" to me.

I understand and appreciate the concept behind the product.  In separating the "wheat from the chaff" we have now found a use for the chaff - the by product.  And that's usually to the good.  No one is out there planting and cultivating wheat just to make (ludicrously overprice, I might add) paper plates.

But I always cringe at claims that cutting down trees is somehow not sustainable.  Let those who live in wood houses quell the first chainsaw.

In my mind a product produced by a woody perennial crop - especially oaks - is always better than a product produced by an soil killing, fossil fuel sucking annual grain crop.  While it's good to use the byproducts of cereal crops, it would be better if we didn't grow so much of those cereal crops that we have mountains of byproduct in the first place.

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