|Kathy Fenton-Miller (photo by Nina B Lanctot)|
by Kathy Fenton-Miller
After I agreed to speak about composting, I began to wonder why I had done so. For one, I am not the greatest composter.
|Photo by Nina B Lanctot|
Yes, I do put my kitchen scraps in the bucket on the counter. But I am inconsistent in taking it out to the pile, something which Willard more often does.
|Lanctot compost pile 1|
And the pile itself is neglected. It lies in a heap most of the year, doing whatever it does largely on its own.
|Lanctot compost pile 2|
Also, isn't composting something which we all know about? What could I say about this tired, somewhat moldy subject that hasn't already been said? Perhaps, I thought, this subject would be better placed in the metaphorical bucket to be carried out to the bin and allowed to re-formulate itself in peace.
But as I read and thought more, I changed my mind. What I want to share is the product of my composting experiences, sprinkled with a few new learnings and into which I have stirred my reflections.
My first compost memory has to do with childhood visits to my Amish neighbors' compost pile.
Their pile was primarily aged manure, the product of cleaning out the stable of their buggy horse. Our goal was to collect fishing worms and we were quite successful in doing so. It was fun to peak and poke around in the pile of partially digested straw, dung with the occasional vegetable matter and egg shell pieces. Although at the time I didn't know the term “compost”, I was definitely impressed by the pile's ability to yield wigglers.
I will fast-forward about 25 years to a second compost experience which occurred when we lived in Chicago's Lower West Side and had young children (Sol and Emma were about 4 and 7 at the time). Our inner-city home had no front yard and in the postage-stamp-sized back yard we had constructed a genuine square-foot garden. This was when we became interested in worm composting and set up a worm bin in our basement. The project was fairly easy to do and space-efficient. It was appealing to the kids, having the right degree of “yuck factor”. It even became a second-grade science project.
Eventually the worm bin moved out of our lives, or rather we moved away from it and to southwest Michigan. Which brings me to the present disheveled pile, which nevertheless contributes to our garden. Most recently the pile has given itself to four rows of corn which were looking pallid and in need of a nitrogen fix.
* Composting benefits soil structure, chemical and biology and so contributes to the health of plants, and us.
* Composting helps reduce landfill waste. The EPA has estimated that 25% of garbage in the U.S. is made of yard trimmings and food waste, which means about 60 million tons annually.
* Composting leads to reduced methane gas release into the atmosphere. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, about 21 times more potent than CO2 and thus a significant factor in global warming. By reducing waste that goes into landfills, we decrease landfill contributions of methane which in North America accounts for about a quarter of the human-generated emissions of methane.
* I have been thinking about how we as a church do (or don't do) compost. Can we build a compost bin or pile and use it for appropriate yard and food waste?
* How about checking out our local landfill? We can see what practices are used there, including harvesting of methane gas.
* On a larger scale, community composting of biodegradables can deal with waste for which small home systems are not equipped. This would include meats, bones and pet waste.
|photo by Kathy Fenton-Miller|
Finally, my action for the summer will be to take our compost bucket to the pile daily. I want to do so with thoughtfulness and gratitude for the many small beings in the pile – bacteria, fungi, actinomycetes, mites, beetles, springtails, sowbugs and good old worms.
They are all contributing to the compost process, a process of transformation.