If you're a San Francisco resident who makes a habit of picking up produce at the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market — the emporium of sustainably grown foods that takes over the Embarcadero on Tuesdays and Saturdays — chances are you already know the difference between a Brandywine and Cherokee Purple heirloom tomato, and are willing to pay for it. But customers will soon face an added premium for the privilege of noshing on local or organic products.
The Center for Urban Education About Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA), which runs the market, is hopping on board the feel-good enviro bandwagon by imitating San Francisco's 2007 ban of plastic bags in supermarkets. From May 23, farmers will be required to distribute their goods in bags that are either recyclable (paper) or compostable. The former cost up to 10 times more than the plastic bags used at present, according to CUESA executive director Dave Stockdale, while the latter, made from exotic corn-derived industrial materials, cost at least 12 times more. "Farmers are always sensitive to price," Stockdale acknowledges. "It's really about adjusting their business to deal with changing costs, just like they do with fuel and other things."
Easy for him to say. After all, it's the farmers and foodsellers who will have to decide whether to absorb the costs themselves or charge customers up to 25 cents per bag.
"It puts vendors in a tough position," says David Evans, a Point Reyes rancher and egg producer whose company, Marin Sun Farms, has a stall. "We always encourage people to bring their own reusable bags, but now we're being forced to either soak up the cost or charge people who are already paying a premium. When someone comes up and buys a dozen eggs for $5, I can't feel good saying, 'Oh yeah, and I need 25 cents for the bag.'" Evans notes that his meat products, ironically, must be wrapped in plastic anyway in accordance with health regulations.
As SF Weekly reported earlier this year, there's no scientific consensus on whether paper and compostable bags, which require lots of energy to produce and transport, are actually better for the environment. That didn't stop CUESA from mandating the bag switchover. Along with those juicy heirloom tomatoes, foodies will just have to digest the increased costs.