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Sustainable Farming: 10 Tips from the Brooklyn Grange

Winston Chiu, Anastasia Cole Plakias, and I all are passionate about eliminating waste.

For Chiu and Cole Plakias, who host the annual Compost Dinner at the Brooklyn Grange, it’s because they have lofty dreams of saving the planet with sustainable gardening, thoughtful food purchases, and efficient kitchen techniques. For me, it’s because I would love to take out the trash less.

When I met Cole Plakias and Chiu a few weeks ago at their dinner, it quickly became clear that they could help me with this.

“When we talk about food waste,” says Cole Plakias, vice president and founding partner of Brooklyn Grange, “we’re not just talking about actual food material being scraped off of a plate into the trash—we are also talking about the energy that went into producing it: water, labor, herbicides, pesticides, harvesting, transportation, packaging, and shipping.”

In fact, America is one of the world’s most wasteful nations when it comes to food—almost half of all produce in the United States is thrown away annually, according to the Guardian.

“Reducing waste in the kitchen has to become part of a lifestyle,” says Chiu, chef and co-founder of catering company BonBite and also known in my household as “the man who got us to eat garbage and like it,” for his impressive Compost Dinner efforts. “You have to make it convenient. Be prepared. Have a few tricks up your sleeve.”

Here are their t0p 10 tips for growing zero-waste food, from farm to table:

Grow Herbs, Not Tomatoes

Healdsburg California garden Arterra Landscape by Mimi Giboin
Above: The life cycle of a chive. Photograph by Mimi Giboin for Gardenista.

“Instead of trying to grow something like tomatoes that take a ton of water, labor, and energy—and which you will always eat anyway, if you buy at the grocery store—start by growing herbs,” says Cole Plakias. “You never eat the entire bunch when you buy them, and they are way more flavorful and delicious when you grow them yourself. And, you can grow something fun like chervil—you’re never going to find that in the grocery store.”

herbs window box by Erin Boyle
Above: Windowsill herbs by Erin Boyle. For more, see

Leafy herbs such chives, parsley, mint, cilantro, tarragon, oregano, and lemon balm are ideal for urban gardens, because they can flourish in lower-light spots.

Buy Ugly

Bao buns with head cheese and fresh herbs from the Brooklyn Grange garden.
Above: At the annual Brooklyn Grange Compost Dinner, chef Chiu composed a menu entirely from odds and ends, made delicious and beautiful. Photograph courtesy of Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm and Anastasia Cole Plakias.

More than a fifth of the fruits and vegetables grown on United States farms don’t meet the high standards of retail channels, like grocery stores. To combat the billions of pounds of waste this creates each year, seek out “misfit” produce—misshapen, discolored, smaller than average—at your local farmers’ market, or through a box subscription service such as Imperfect Produce.

Pickle It

Photograph by Katrin Scharl.
Above: After transforming a derelict walled garden into a thriving edible garden, Katrin Scharl pickles vegetables every year. For more, see Garden Visit: At Home with Katrin Scharl in Brandenburg, Germany.

Home-pickling is a technique that will lengthen vegetables’ lifespan by months.

The most basic way to pickle is to submerge leftover vegetables (you can get creative here—think beyond cucumbers and carrots to beets, shallots, radishes…) in a mixture of vinegar, water, a little sugar, salt, and whatever spices you see fit. (See our Garden-to-Table Recipe: Pickles from a Cook’s Garden.)

At this year’s Compost Dinner, Chiu...

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