Sunday, July 5, 2009

A town's trash becomes everyone's treasure

Ollie and I arrived on the doorstep of Green Meadows Farm -- historic home of the famous Patton family in northeastern MA, and the only certified organic farm in the area -- on Thursday evening, drenched, exhausted, and starving after an intense day of cycling from Boston. Mrs. Patton, one of the most gracious hostesses (and human beings) I have ever met, welcomed us into her home with open arms and a hot meal. The following morning after breakfast, Mrs. Patton introduced me to her neighbor, Peter, whose innate curiosity and thoughtful commitment to making the world a better place (globally -- through his work with the youth leadership program, Outward Bound International -- and locally, which I'll get into momentarily) have led him to develop a brilliant solution to the dual problems of soil depletion and waste production.

Peter and his wife Beatrice moved to Hamilton, MA in the mid 70s and acquired a piece of land on which Peter hoped to realize his dream of slowly revitalizing the soil. He was not a farmer by trade but an anthropologist and a teacher, yet he dove right into the project and today remains doggedly committed to his original vision of converting waste into compost and reviving the land. This man is perhaps the only individual I have ever met who gets more excited about compost than I do. (Shocking, I know.) His vision is to help as many people as possible grow food on their land and he has vowed to give away the black gold he produces at Brick Ends Farm to any farmer or home gardener in the area who asks for it, by the bucket or the truckload. Talk about giving back. Peter cheerfully showed me around his property: mountains of compost at various stages of decomposition, an area for aging horse manure ("thank you, Martha Stewart, for convincing horse owners to pay me to take their horse manure and then buy it back from me the next year for their flowers," he quipped), and the small First Light CSA which he hosts on his land. It was the largest composting operation I've ever seen, and it produced such high-quality stuff that Mike, who runs First Light, grows all of the food for the CSA (in its second year here) in straight compost, not even mixing it with soil -- something I had previously come to understand as a big no-no in the garden, though I vaguely recall the explanation for this being tied to the concentration of nitrogen in most compost being too strong for undiluted use on plants. (Soil scientists, help me out here.)

Peter, like most folks I've met here, is proud of his work while being modest about his successes. The following morning at breakfast, Mrs. Patton and I read a feature in the local paper about the unprecedented success of a pilot town composting program that Peter helped to initiate. The setup supplied 74 families in the town of Hamilton with food waste buckets which are collected by a truck and brought to Peter's farm one day a week. An analysis of the trial period proposed that 10 of the average family's 27 pounds of weekly trash were being redirected to compost through the program -- the waste management and financial implications of which did not escape the state's notice. The pilot was deemed a wild success and there is some talk of expanding the program (the pickup cost will run roughly less than a dollar per household per week) to include all homes in Hamilton and nearby Wenham. If the recent shift in weather to (finally!) clear and sunny didn't bring a big enough smile to my face, this program sure has.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry


  1. My "CSA" plans to start picking up our compost next week when they give us our food. Their philosphy: why does the city not recycle the easiest portion of our foodstream to recycle? Sounds like a good trade to me.

  2. Exactly! Sheffy, I'm so glad you tried out Burt's CSA. Any luck dispensing with the plethora of potatoes?

  3. They give me about 7 potatoes a week, which "boils" down to one a day. I'm personally having a potato unfamine.


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