Farmers are known for not throwing things away. I’ve learned why — it seems that even the most spent item can find a use repurposed somewhere else. Discarded tires hold down tarps, empty big boxes become homes for baby chicks, and near threadbare towels seem to live forever as rags in the workshop.
There are some things, though, that pull on the heart strings when pitching, regardless of whether the owner has any remaining connection to farming. Perhaps the donors come from farm stock, have the thrifty nature of those who survived the Great Depression, or just really want to be helpful, but either way they know that there’s just something about egg cartons.
Do they stack up in your kitchen as well, in the garage, in the pantry? Folks have learned that (provided they’re clean) we can reuse them, and typically with the classic spring cleaning urge, they arrive at our door by the grocery sack or boxful. Some of our diligent CSA members save them up every week, and after requisite quarantine time, I sort through them and reuse those that are tidy and in great shape. Sometimes I even get back my own, with the labels still intact!
Something feels good about being able to reuse an egg carton. They’re such a complex shape, and they take up considerable space in the garbage or recycle bin (trust me, I know from trying to manage the ones that don’t make the cut). Buying new ones (especially jumbo cartons, which are harder to find) costs me nearly 50 cents apiece for a huge boxload.
Another thing folks can’t throw away are canning jars. When someone with an overflowing stash (or their mother or grandmother’s stash) learns that you still can foods, watch out! When we made our own maple syrup, we’d plow through all kinds of pint and quart jars, filling the old farmhouse basement with the liquid gold. One spring, when the sap had an especially high sugar content, we packed away the equivalent of 64 gallons of syrup. We never did that big of a season again! Yikes!
After retiring the maple syrup project altogether and selling the equipment to a friend, there wasn’t as much need for jars. But the donations kept coming, and we kept graciously squirreling them away, just in case. But there comes a point when it just is too much, and we decided that, well, if we hadn’t used them at this point, they might as well go to someone who would. And yet, we, too, just couldn’t throw them out.
So, I messaged a friend who preserves her own food and asked if she would take them.
“How many and what do you want for them?” she wrote back.
“Lots, and since they were given to us for free, you can just have them.”
“I’ll take them! Thank you,” was the enthusiastic response.
Now, I suppose, lots is a relative statement. Someone might think that lots of canning jars would be a couple of cases. For us, lots ended up being at trailer load, stacked two boxes high. It took two trips in her minivan to haul them away.
I don’t think I’ll ever need to buy another quart jar again!” my friend remarked with a chuckle as she shared how she planned to give some to another friend as well. One farmer’s surplus became another’s treasure trove. Sometimes you’re just a halfway house for the things that can’t be thrown away.
Yet another such category is yarn. Typically, once every couple of years, I’ll receive a call from someone who is cleaning up the house after their mother’s passing. Sometimes the stash has sat in their own house for years, and they’ve finally decided (like us with the canning jars) that they just aren’t going to get around to using it and the yarn should go to someone who would enjoy it. Sure, they could take it to a thrift store, but there’s something about giving it directly to the user that helps them feel that they’re honoring their mom’s memory.
Sometimes there’s even half-finished projects included, needles, or patterns. Sometimes there’s an old snarl, but most are neatly collected. I’ve used pretty, decorative yarns in shawls and hats, and bundles of acrylic odds-and-ends to make crocheted nests for local wildlife rehabilitation centers. I think about the women who bought this yarn originally, what they might have been dreaming of making, how this material was treasured and passed on.
In the end, I think that things like egg cartons, canning jars, and yarn stashes are hard to throw away because they are enablers of personal agency and self-sufficiency. We want to know that someone out there is still raising their own eggs, preserving their own food, and making warm and comforting things for their loved ones. And if that is a younger person, all the better. I’ve been handed down looms this way and wool processing equipment of all kinds. I’ve been handed down beekeeping gear — some of which I’ve used and some of which I’ve passed on to others.
We yearn to know that the work of making and tending and feeding of families and communities goes on, and that’s the real reason why we can’t throw it away. What are things that you can pass on to someone who could really use them? You might be surprised at how useful something as simple as an empty ice cream bucket can be to the right person! I encourage you, as we all organize our spaces before snow flies, to think and give creatively and see what happens.
See you down on the farm sometime.
Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. She can be reached 715-462-3453 and www.northstarhomestead.com.