In Brooklyn, finding community in composting
Wallace and Karolina of Crown Heights, Brooklyn dump a months worth of organic waste into compost recycling garbage cans. (Photo by Jason Andrew)
The tree that grows in Brooklyn thrives on potato peels and eggshells.
In Fort Greene Park each Saturday, locals deposit vegetable scraps, fruit rinds and coffee grounds in six metal garbage cans placed alongside the Greenmarket. Volunteers transport the organic waste to three local community gardens where the leftovers decompose into nutrient-rich compost.
But first, the raw material has to be moved.
Its wet, heavy, messy stuff, said Roy Arezzo, of Fort Greenes Carlton Bears Garden. Its not for everybody.
But for those who harvest the food scraps (meat and fish arent allowed), reducing inputs into the waste stream is a reward and an opportunity to give back to the community.
You have to be a little crazy to haul compost, admitted Alice Hartley, another core group member who helped lay the groundwork for the compost transport system in October 2006 and now hauls the food scraps on an industrial trike built expressly for that purpose.
The vegicycle, as its called, has a single speed, foot brakes and a caged front platform to haul 10 garbage bags brimming with food waste.
Depending on the weekend, it travels between Carlton Bears Garden, Greene Acres Garden in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Hollenback Community Garden in Clinton Hill.
Charlie Bayrer, a Clinton Hill handyman, has been composting for 11 years at Hollenback. He estimated that food scraps from Fort Greene Greenmarket drop-off account for half of the ingredients used to generate the 20 cubic yards of compost his garden produces each year.Donating leftover food is one thing. Schlepping it and shoveling it and tending to five working compost heaps that generate temperatures of 160 degrees Fahrenheit is another. Bayrer was surprised when someone at the market said dropping off food scraps made him feel better about himself. But the veteran composter is also open to increased involvement on the part of the public. It would just be nice if they were more curious about what happened to it after the fact.
Its a pretty low-maintenance arrangement at this point, said Alice Hartley, noting
that the group hasnt missed a weekend since the project began. Neither rain, nor snow, nor 90-degree temperatures keep them from their rounds. Yet, there is a certain irony in exerting so much human energy to move food scraps away from what could seem like a perfectly good gestation spot.
Metal trash barrels punctuate pathways in Fort Greene Parks 30-acre, 161-year-old expanse, but as in most spots in the city, there are no designated receptacles for organic waste. Fort Greene Park doesnt want food waste in their park, said Arezzo, a science teacher who started a food-waste compost project at a Williamsburg school. The Parks Department has a lot on their plate and theyre very afraid of compost food waste.
A department spokesperson said compost piles benefit the city by diverting organic waste from the waste stream and noted that Parks composts branches, wood chips and shrubbery clippings on city parkland, for example, the Mount on the east side of Central Park, near 105th Street.
Hartley hopes her groups efforts will inspire others. We hope this program will take off on a bigger scale. Weve had some talks with Greenmakret people about replicating this model.
New York City Greenmarket Director Michael Hurwitz called the compost trek a prime method of small -scale sustainable waste management. I would ultimately like to be composting in everyone of our markets, he said. Hurwitz takes his rinds to the compost drop-off site at the market. But occasionally, his leftover vegetable parts end up closer to home. In his windowbox.
Sometimes if Im done eating a turnip, said Hurwitz, Ill just stick it down in the soil.
-- Laura Silver
Veg out: Learn about how to compost your food scraps
The New York City Compost Project (http://www.nyccompost.org/) works with groups in the five boroughs to offer workshops and classes on converting organic waste into black gold.