Thursday, June 11, 2009

C-O-M-P-O-S-T: find out what it means to me

It's been some time since I lived in New York. It's an immense city, teeming with people, cars, and buildings. And waste. Lots of it. And yet NYC is in some ways among the nation's frontrunners for a greener urban space, with its hybrid electric metro buses and comprehensive city-wide recycling program. While there does not appear to be a comparable move toward standardized city-run composting on the horizon, there is a growing consciousness about food, waste, and taking personal/communal responsibility for consumption and disposal.

I had the good fortune to meet Aurelia, educator and distributor for New York Pay Dirt's compost, potting soil, and at-cost compost bins while strolling around the Wednesday farmers market at Union Square yesterday. She filled me in a bit on the food scrap and vermiculture scene over the past couple of decades in the city. Who knew Manhattanites had been composting with worm bins for that long? (I certainly didn't, and I was living just over the Bridge in downtown Brooklyn for two whole years!) I bought a pound of compost (black gold for a $1.50) to prepare the soil for the heirloom tomato plant I'd picked up for my Aunt Martha's garden in Queens and a few informational materials on composting sites and other resources around town.

This morning Aunt Martha and I visited one of the nearby compost-related locations mentioned in one of the booklets: the Queens Botanical Garden. I ventured past the rose gardens with my bag of compost (veggie scraps from last night's dinner and eggshells from today's quiche) only to be brusquely informed at the visitor center that the garden was not a drop-off site for community members. Guess I should have read the fine print. I admit that I was rather disgruntled at this apparent disconnect between the garden and local community/ environmental stewardship ideal. People at the garden were not particularly friendly -- maybe nearly 6 straight weeks of dreary weather was partly to blame -- but at last one of the teachers in the educational center took a few minutes to explain that the QBG simply does not have the capacity to handle community compost drop-offs. I was told I'd have to bring my trash to the biweekly Union Square market. Really?? What a waste! (Pun intended, though this is not a laughing matter.) Come on, Mayor Bloomberg, you're a shrewd businessman, don't you see the potential here?

I am, admittedly, somewhat fanatical about composting. (You may have gathered this from some of my earlier posts.) Luckily my friends humored me when, back in DC, I would pack out my fruit and vegetable scraps after cooking dinner in their kitchens, gleefully biking my bag of rescued-from-landfill goods home to the backyard composter. But hang on to my bag of peels until Saturday and schlep it all the way from Flushing to Union Square on public transit? I can count on about three fingers the number of New Yorkers -- or anyone else, for that matter -- willing to do that.

There is hope, though. After a cup of coffee and lap around the Bluestocking Bookstore -- a great feminist/anarchist bookstore in the East Village and current organizational point for the small-but-growing NYC Food Project -- I put in a call to the Lower East Side Ecology Center. I spoke with Carey, director of the composting program there, who happily filled me in on the history of LESEC which began as a recycling center many years before a systematic urban recycling collection was in place here and which has since expanded to focus on promoting environmental education and stewardship. While a good chunk of the funding for city-wide leaf/grass collection, free compost distribution, and educational programs was recently cut out of the group's budget, the Center continues to run workshops, put environmentally-minded folks in touch with local resources (both around the city and online), and collaborate with schools and community gardens to green New York from the bottom up: a true grass roots approach. And interest is growing.(Here's a link to the petition to bring back composting to the city.)

Rest assured that there will be further posts on composting as my journey continues -- how we manage our waste is a big part of how we are beginning to account for ourselves amid the larger world of consumers. (I'm also hoping for an update on the backyard composter from my neighbors. Henry, David, Shelly: any progress on the bin activity? Eh? Eh?)

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

1 comment:

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