Compost for Brooklyn

I didn’t think I would find my community amid a once abandoned lot filled with rotting food scraps. I merely had gotten used to composting in my apartment in Somerville, composting my produce scraps in the city-sized anaerobic composter in my ample back stairwell in the winter months or walking a bucket full of scraps to the large compost pile at the community garden a few blocks away from spring to fall. It was an step or two than just tossing the extra cucumber peels or carrot tops into the trash, but it had become a part of my routine. One more thing to do, like bringing reusable bags to the supermarket or picking up my monthly meat CSA. In fact I had my locavore diet so perfectly calibrated that I had at least met the farmer who was directly responsible for about 90% of the food in my home. It was easy, I’d say to friends. I wrote a book about how, with a little planning, anyone could do it.

But then my husband and I began spending more time at a sublet in Brooklyn. Our vegetable scraps filled numerous plastic containers that we stacked waist-high; the farmer’s markets were a three hour endeavor, requiring two trains and six flights of stairs. The local meat CSA dropped off on a day we were often in Somerville for work. The sun coverage on my new front porch (which I had realized that I was lucky enough to have in the first place) was not quite enough to encourage a harvest of a late planting of lettuce and broccoli rabe. In the first few weeks in Brooklyn, I followed all of my best advice. It was true, I knew I would eventually find the same balance that we had in Somerville. Finding our go-to local farmers could happen slowly, I realized – we weren’t going to starve. But the compost situation began to get dire. I just could not imagine throwing out those apple cores and wilted lettuce leaves that I had been committed about returning to the earth for years, now. I could not even fathom the days of a stinky, liquid garbage, of two full baskets a week, of sending so many nutrients to the landfill instead of the soil.

My efforts at finding a community garden were coming up short, especially so late into the growing season, but finally I put the two simple words “compost” and “brooklyn” into my search engine. Lo and behold I saw that the spirit of composting was alive and well in Brooklyn; I found a once-neglected lot not more than a fifteen minute walk from our apartment that had been turned into one of the most dedicated compost gardens in the city. I visited during their next drop off hours the following say and offered to volunteer on the spot.

Now, five months later, I can easily say that I have found my community of people passionate about composting and dedicated to consuming a more local-centric and sustainable diet. We have shared food and wine, have gossiped and brainstormed. I have helped write a successful grant for the garden and met people from the neighborhood whom I never would have known if not for the act of compost. And, once a month, rain or shine or freezing cold, I now volunteer to help collect and chop the scraps we collect during open hours, which helps to divert hundreds of pounds of food waste from the garbage and back into the ground. It’s the least I could do to repay this dedicated group for the work they have done bringing a little more green space to my new crowded city.

I have since joined the local food coop and found a sunnier spot for my lettuce sprouts, come spring. And my new friends at Compost for Brooklyn have begun talks to make the garden a drop off point for a CSA in the coming season. I was one of the first on the list. The best thing is that I realized that it wasn’t hard to find a way to live a the sustainable life that I want to – even in a new city. I just had to find my community in Brooklyn. And to do that I had to follow my passion – even if that passion is decaying food.

4 thoughts on “Compost for Brooklyn

  1. You know your posts are so inspiring. Seriously. Thanks for writing what you do. And I am happy to have someone to ask about composting. When i keep a lidded bucket of food scraps in our kitchen we eventually get fruit flies. It doesn’t matter if the bucket is sealed up tight they somehow manifest!!??!. Have you had that problem? Yes, i realize that i have the luxury of emptying my bucket every day outside just 10 ft from my back door and it sounds lame that we just don’t empty the bucket daily, but we are lame admittedly and lazy. But i was wondering what your experience was or if there was some trick?

    Miss you guys!


    • Thanks so much! I always appreciate your feedback! And to answer your question – if the buckets/ jars/ tupperware has an airtight seal, we don’t tend to get fruit flies except sometimes in the summer. The back hall composter doesn’t really get any. BUT that is partly because of the Bokashi microbe saw dusty stuff we use and also because we keep a plastic bag covering the top to really keep out air (and thus, fewer bugs). Perhaps try that method? I just tuck a plastic bag layer on the top of the compost and then move it just long enough to dump in more scraps. Also, a trick I learned in Brooklyn: keep the compost in the freezer! My freezer is usually too full, but if you can keep an open bowl in there and empty it out every few days, it might work.
      All best!

  2. Pingback: Pragmatic Environmentalism

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