Oh What a Winter

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Finished compost site in North Minneapolis.

What a winter we have had here in Minnesota.   No one thought that it would have lasted this long and we all got spoiled with last years lack of winter, but none the less, the Compostadores continue to collect organics and make compost.

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Hot compost in action!

This is the first year where the Compostadores have collected through the winter.   It has taught us a lot about winter composting and the logistics that go into making it a successful small scale operation.   One thing that was never accounted for, but obvious now is that that frozen food scrapes do not break down and compress as fast in the bins.   We budgeted a certain amount of time that it would take to fill each bin and in the summer, that was right on.  Once it got cold, this was thrown right out.   We filled up our 4th compost site very fast and we started on a 5th site that will be filled in the next week or so.   We are in the process of getting a 6th site, that will get us through the spring.  once it starts to warm up, we can start breaking open the bins that were filled last spring and start using those again.

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Finished compost site in South Minneapolis.

In Mid-December, it finally got cold enough and the road conditions got bad enough, that it really tested our cyclists skills.   Carrying a loaded trailer of food scrapes down a slippery hill will make even the most experienced cyclist nervous and these guys did great.   The cyclist bikes have studded tires and they are dressed for winter riding, but sometimes, it is just to cold or the road conditions are not safe for riding.   In these cases we move to vehicle collection.   Our Green Source Partners expect their organics to be picked up so we do what we can to make that happen.

We have found out this winter that are able make hot compost on a small scale.  Our small bins have been hitting temps of 130 degrees through out the winter and we are so excited about this.   The picture on the left shows a bin that has compress over 2 feet since it was filled a few months ago.   This is really exciting for us because it is proving to us that we can still make compost, even in the coldest of months.


Movin’ Compost!

                                                                                                                                                                                           The Compostadores have been very busy this summer keeping would be food waste out of our landfills and in our neighborhoods where it is currently being turned into high nutrient packed compost. Here are two of our cyclist  picking up a load of coffee grounds from a local coffee shop in South Minneapolis. From here they will weigh their load and dump it into one our compost bins.  They take pride in the work that they do and are part of the reason why the Compostadores have been successful this year.   Keep up the great work!

Passing the Compost fork

My first excursion with the Compostadores took place on an icy fall morning in 2010 after Patsy, the Lead Compostadore,  told me that she’d take me on an outing to dump compost.  When I got into her veggie-filled station wagon, I nervously glanced at her car’s dashboard.  It prominently featured dozens of apple cores from months and probably years past – the “compost shrine,” as she calls it. As we pulled out of the parking lot and skidded around the corner, an entire 50-pound bucket of wet coffee grounds immediately sloshed over on the back seat.  I bit my lip. Had I made a terrible decision to help get this composting program off the ground, er, grounded?  (Since Patsy was the sole Compostadore and spent all her time picking up and dumping compost, I came onto the program through Minnesota GreenCorps to help develop the concept and build community partners.)

We turned into a back alley where a cobbled-together bin was sitting awaiting its lunch, and we jumped out to unload the contents of her car.  I was poorly dressed and my toes were numb, but as I learned during the subsequent months, composting must happen 365 days a year.

Opening the first bag, I held my breath, expecting the kind of acrid, slimy mush like what used to sit moldering under my own family’s kitchen sink.  But what we dragged out of those bags was as handsome an array of mouth-watering veggies as any that could be found at an up-scale farmers’ market.  Beginning with a pleasing rainbow of brilliantly-hued Swiss Chard, we cradled supple leaves of kale in a bed of springy cabbage, still-fresh carrots, and a few misshapen-but-not-rotten apples and lemons.  The bin looked like a gourmet salad bowl for a 500-person dinner party.

I got back in the car no longer frowning at my numb toes, but feeling a rekindled flame to mend America’s broken food system.  I’d worked on food waste issues previously with groups targeting homelessness, assuring food access, and implementing commercial composting systems at farmers markets, restaurants, and events (through locally-based Eureka Recycling).  But nothing makes America’s food problems feel as tangible as having to pick up and dump several hundred pounds of compost at a time by bicycle.

Since those days, the Compostadores have been able to hire four cyclist composters and run several routes at a time.  Working on composting issues with Gardening Matters has been an incredible learning experience — from the mundane details of bucket and bike logistics to advocating for policy change at the City and State levels — and I’ve benefited from a great team at Gardening Matters, a devoted advisory committee and numerous community partners.

When grappling with a loaded bike trailer, it’s easy to get frustrated by food waste, particularly since the Compostadores haven’t taken on giant producers like large supermarkets or cafeterias.  But the conversations, educational opportunities, and the sheer volume of neighborhood-based composting efforts do make a dent in the food system, both physically and morally.

I see locally-based composting as a form of restorative justice in a food system fraught with misdirection and violence. In our industrialized system, the farm workers, those who consume many overly processed foods, and the land all suffer from unjust systems and unhealthy food. In the state that our system exists, waste is ubiquitous and nutritious food can be a scarce commodity in many communities. But through composting we can get local producers involved in community solutions.  We can keep this so-called waste as a local asset and use it productively.  In keeping it out of the landfills and putting it into local gardens, we’re improving the air, the land, the water, and supporting home-grown food and healthy bodies.   This is why the Compostadores program fits so nicely within the framework of Gardening Matters – neighborhood-based composting is about building community, reducing waste, and supporting healthy soils and the gardeners that make them happen.

I’m leaving Gardening Matters this month — a bittersweet departure –headed to Northern India to intern on the farm and training center Navdanya, started by food justice activist Vandana Shiva. While working there I’ll be studying agricultural issues on small farms and learning traditional and sustainable farming methods. Dr. Shiva’s work has been inspirational for me, and I am thrilled to learn more about her efforts with international movements for food justice and equity.

I am pleased to introduce the new Compostadores Program Coordinator: Nate Schrecengost, founder of Pig’s Eye Urban Farm (now a part of Stone’s Throw Urban Farm) who will be taking over the compost fork for me next week.  He’s had a great deal of experience working on Twin Cities-based urban food endeavors and community organizing.  As we work to move the Compostadores towards a sustainable business model, I am confident that his strong background will serve the program well, complementing Patsy’s tireless hours spent outdoors doing compost rounds and our cyclists’ biking tenacity.

I’m eternally grateful for all the inspiration and wisdom that I’ve gleaned from so many community activists in the Twin Cities and beyond. Please do stay in touch!

In Soil-darity,

Rebecca

P.S. Look for the Compostadores at Will Allen’s Growing Power Conference on September 7-9 in Milwaukee – we’ll be presenting on Sunday!

New addition to the Compostadores

We hired a new Compostadores Coordinator .  His name is Nate Schrecengost and he comes from a strong background in Natural Resource Conservation and Urban Agriculture.  We think that he will be a great asset to the group and will help the compostadores grow as an organization and set new bars for what is possible with composting and biking in the Twin Cities.

Welcome aboard Nate.

Compostadores offering free compost bin builds in Hennepin County

Composting helps improve soil nutrition, water absorption, and healthy vegetable production.  Healthy soils are at the core of food production and community garden sustainability.

Here’s the great news: the Compostadores are building a limited number of free compost bins for community gardens located in Hennepin County that are interested in starting up composting systems in the spring of 2013.

How the project works:

Compostadores lead free bin-build workshops for community gardens, and will guide gardeners through simple construction of compost bins with recycled pallets, while discussing composting and sharing information on composting basics.

Participating gardens should gather at least ten gardeners and community members to attend the workshop and help build a bin, and strongly suggest a compost team of 2-3 people from the garden who will be stewards of the compost bin.  Compostadores will bring the supplies and educational materials to guide the workshops and teach you the skills that you need for successful composting endeavors, both in bin construction and composting.

Your community garden will keep and fill the bin, and will be able to use the finished compost to enrich the garden!

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If your community garden is in Hennepin County, please copy and paste the following information into an email or word document and send to Nate@gardeningmatters.org or

Gardening Matters: 310 E 38th St, Suite 204b, Minneapolis, MN 55409

Name of Garden: __________     #of Garden plots: ________

Garden Contact Name: ______________________________

Email address/Phone Number of contact: _____________________________________

To ensure that the bin builds are a good fit for your garden, we ask you to fill out a couple of questions.  Applications will be accepted on a first-come-first served basis, but priority will be given to: gardens that can commit to bringing in gardeners and community members to attend the bin build, gardens serving communities of higher need, and those without successful compost systems.

1. Does your garden already successfully compost? Tell us about it. If not, why not?

2. Does your Garden serve those with lesser access to healthy food? Low-income gardeners, donating to a food shelf, etc.

3. Are you able to recruit a compost team or at least 10 gardeners and/or community members to attend the bin-build workshop? All are invited to participate, regardless of whether they’re gardeners, although we encourage gardener participation and a compost team to improve stewardship of the compost bin.

Demonstration project: We’re rolling! Picking up Compost by bicycle

In June 2011, the Compostadores formally received a Permit from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to increase the scale of permissible compost in four community gardens in the Twin Cities.  The permit process has taken us nearly a year of visioning, writing, and re-writing, and we’re thrilled to have it!

Through a year-long demonstration project, three Compostadores cyclists will be picking up food scraps on a daily basis from local businesses, to close the loop on food waste recycling and to keep these healthy nutrients in the neighborhood.  The program will help demonstrate the feasibility of neighborhood-based composting operations.

These compost bike runs officially re-started in June, and – despite the hot, hot heat – our cyclists are hauling an impressive volume of coffee and veggies. (Have you ever tried lifting a five gallon bucket of coffee grounds? These buckets getheavy!)

As a component of the project, compost is being closely monitored to ensure safe practices.  Cyclists will be measuring the temperature of the bins on a daily basis, and regularly checking for issues that may arise, such as odors or vermin.  Neighborhood Compost Teams will be developed to check in on the compost bins and teach neighbors about the bins.

The pilot project is supported by funding from the City of Minneapolis.  Other local partners include Sunrise Cyclery bike shop, Welna Ace Hardware, and ten local coffee shops, restaurants, food shelves and other businesses.  There are three primary routes in North and South Minneapolis, and the number of partners continues to grow.

Free compost bin build workshops will be occurring throughout the season for the project.  If you’re interested in getting involved with bin builds, neighborhood compost teams, or have any further questions about the project, we invite you to join us!

The elegance of decay

Oftentimes as we’re dumping our freshly gathered buckets into the bins, the Compostadores feel lucky to be able to embrace the aesthetics of our daily grind.

We delight as those electrically orange mashed carrots – topped by the juicy red beets – nestle themselves on beds of nurturing cabbage leaves.  We feel maternal pleasure as we tuck them under the blanket of vibrant-stemmed Swiss Chard.  And there’s nothing like the pleasure of topping it with gallons upon gallons of fragrant coffee grounds!

NPR’s The Salt blog’s recent post about food waste also looks at food decay - although theirs is perhaps not quite as fresh as what we encounter on our rounds.  We virtually never experience mold or smelly juiciness to that extent, because we pick up food waste with such regularity. We don’t deal with meat or dairy on our rounds. Though you may lose your appetite after looking at The Salt’s blog post – it will certainly give you food for thought.