Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Garbage is Magic

Every Monday evening for several weeks now, I sit in a classroom above Whole Foods - just above the gourmet cheeses and seductive foodstuffs - and revel in the beauty of decaying garbage.

The classroom is filled with my fellow no-waste nerds and led by the wise and inspiring instructor, Judy Elliott. There, we sit on the edge of our wooden seats, enraptured at the prospect of turning smelly food scraps and garden waste into beautiful soil, "Black Gold." We learn about nematodes, the carbs/nitrogen balance and the many ways we can help Mama Nature do what She is going to do anyway, just a bit faster.

Welcome to the Denver Urban Gardens' Master Composter Program.

I'm only a month or so into the 10-week course but it will technically last throughout the year and beyond, first as a student and then sometime in April or May, as a community presenter. I'm new to composting but it has always appealed to my fear-of-waste mentality.

Ask any relation, friend or co-worker, I am a fanatic about thoughtless waste, which is overwhelming in this country. Over 50% of the food produced in this country gets thrown away - mostly from imperfect (looks-wise) produce, grocery store expirees and restaurant/home leftovers. Meanwhile, 99% of things that Americans buy get thrown away within six months. MAKES ME CRAZY. And even though the "The Story of Stuff" video is old news in WebLand, it's still the most enlightening 20 minutes you'll ever spend.

Kirk has noted on several occasions how little trash we generate in this household - maybe a bag every three weeks or so. I'm fiercely adamant about recycling anything that possibly can be and now with the composting, our rubbage has dwindled even further. Also, I buy very little processed food, mostly produce, so that makes a big difference. Yes, I'm one of those people.

We were given a massive notebook made of recycled cardboard and it must weigh five pounds. With chapter names like, "Building Your Masterpiece of Decomposition: Getting Down and Dirty", "The Food Web of the Compost Mound" and "Vermicomposting: Worms to the Rescue!", it has everything I need to know.

And each class is unique. Last night, the VP of Metech Recycling gave a horrifying presentation on e-waste (computers, phones, iPods, etc.) and next week, we will be starting a compost pile in the classroom, with (non-food) waste we'll bring in. Later in the program, we'll be taking road trips to local recycling plants and landfills for extensive tours. It's like we are being trained as a No-Waste Army to then go out and battle this horrific problem. This is a military movement I can definitely get behind.

Meanwhile, I've accidentally become co-Captain of the Heartstone Garden Village compost, along with my neighbor, Brett. (My other neighbor, Will, gave up the post one day when he found an Army boot and a block of Velveeta in the compost pile.) With spring's arrival, we are doing more and more with it but I'm getting in the habit of turning it weekly, knowing when to mix in leaves and other carbs (chopped up garden waste, sawdust, corn husks, etc.) and when to step back and let it "cook." We have to police it a bit, make sure that it doesn't become a garbage dumping ground, which means digging through an entire neighborhood's worth of trash.

Photo credit: The Green Life
Seeing what people eat is pretty fascinating - lots of fruit, eggs, cabbage and winter root veggies. Rarely are they chopped up, which is preferable for composting, so I take a flat spade and destroy them. Pulverizing a huge beet with a giant tool until its purple guts are everywhere? Incredibly satisfying.

I've pulled out many bits of plastic, that evil material that will eventually lead us to play out the film, 'Wall-E.' (I'd go on but my pal, Beth, has this topic brilliantly covered.) Note that it would take 450 years for that disposable diaper to decompose. And that styrofoam? Never. It will always be here.

Whoops, near-rant averted. So, anyhoo, I'm sticking to my 2011 motto which is, "I have no idea what I'm doing but I'm doing it." 


Camille said...

You are a master! And not just with trash, baby! When can you come over and critique my composting???? Brilliant post THANKS.

ClizBiz said...

Actually, I'm at that point when I don't know how much I know. Once I start presenting, I may surprise myself.

Laurianna said...

Last year I sold my wedding gown on craigslist and with my earnings and I bought a compost bin... getting way more use out of the bin!

ClizBiz said...

Fo, that's the best compost story I've ever heard. True recycling!

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