Quirky Work: Composter
Everyday, Christine Datz-Romero hopes to get her hands dirty.
And as a composter and co-founder of the Lower Eastside Ecology Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the city’s green spaces, she has a very good shot at getting them covered in dirt.
Sitting in an old, beat-up, silver van that the Ecology Center uses to cart food scraps from the Greenmarket to their processing center, Datz-Romero seems totally comfortable surrounded by other New Yorkers’ garbage.
“I grew up on an orchard in Germany,” Datz-Romero said. “Working on the farm was where my relationship with nature really started.”
In 1980, way ahead of today’s green movement, she received a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies and biology from Queens College, then a graduate degree in non-profit management at the New School.
One of the first projects that the Ecology Center chose to tackle was introducing a composting system to New York City.
“I believe that composting is the missing link between eating and the next season’s crops,” Datz-Romero said. “And for New Yorkers it is a great opportunity to reconnect with the natural life around them.”
What is composting?
Composting is a process in which micro-organisms breakdown leftover food scraps.
“You know when you pull a lettuce head that you forgot about out of the refrigerator and it is covered with a kind of slime,” Datz-Romero said. “That is the beginning of the micro-organisms starting to breakdown the food, which is part of composting.”
The Ecology Center puts food waste in giant bins, and then monitors the air movement, temperature and moisture of the mixture. They also combine red wiggler worms that eat their own body weight everyday and create castings, worm poop, which speeds up the breakdown. The whole composting process takes about three months.
The Ecology Center does not do house pick-ups, but expects people to drop waste off at their stall in the Union Square Greenmarket.
“We’ve been here for 15 years and we collect from 1,000 households now,” Datz-Romero said. “We get about 6 tons of materials per week.”
After the composting process is complete the Center sells the composted soil at the Greenmarket.
Acceptable food scraps include teabags, coffee grounds, bread products, flowers, fruits and veggies. Meat and all dairy products are not accepted.
What the job entails
While composting still remains close to Christine’s heart, her current role as executive director of the Ecology Center means more time in the office.
“As the organization grows, my role continues to evolve,” Datz-Romero said. “Normally I ride my bike to the office and spend a lot of time on the computer and in meetings working on fundraising, public policy and keeping the Center going. That said, everyday is a different day.”Despite all that work, the non-profit field doesn’t come with a large paycheck.
“I am definitely not making high figures but my work is really meaningful to me,” Datz-Romero said. “If you love what you’re doing, it can sometimes come with a price.”
To get a job in the composting or green non-profit world Datz-Romero recommends as lots of hands on experience. And with five composting centers in New York, that is definitely possible.
“Go to a workshop, start composting on your own or get an internship in the field,” Datz-Romero said. “When you decide to do this with your life, it has to be a decision that is driven by a personal passion to work with nature.”The Center is located in East River Park near the Fire Boat House and is always looking for volunteers. Visit lesecologycenter.org or call 212-477-4022 to learn more.