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Of the Earth: New local options for turning garbage into gold

  • Rarely has a process given us so much for so little, and yet remained so underutilized. We know that composting can reduce waste by a third, cutting carbon and methane releases while building soil that is rich in nutrients and good organisms. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • BLIXT



For The Recorder
Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The neighbors viewed my father’s compost with some horror. After all, it was suburbia in the 1950s and folks didn’t typically keep a pile of garbage in the back yard. But my father had fallen under the sway of Rodale Press, which promoted organic gardening and compost bins. I don’t recall if he actually grew anything organically, or had a “bin” per se, but waiting for “black gold” to emerge from the bottom of the pile remained a mystery in our family.

My own compost bin was recently sliced asunder by a sheet of ice that calved off the roof line of our house. My dear wife, Sadie, wisely counseled that we wait for a thaw before dealing with it further — this from someone whose idea of compost was, until not long ago, the New Jersey meadowlands.

What we’re talking about here is “compost ambivalence.” Rarely has a process given us so much for so little, and yet remained so underutilized. We know that composting can reduce waste by a third, cutting carbon and methane releases while building soil that is rich in nutrients and good organisms.

At the same time, despite a statewide diversion goal of 350,000 tons by 2020, composting rates remain unimpressive. About 70 percent of composting is limited to yard waste. In Franklin County, the towns of Montague, Erving, and Deerfield do not currently offer free food waste compost programs for their residents. These towns do offer free leaf composting for residents. The towns of New Salem, Wendell and Leverett do offer free food and paper waste compost programs for their residents. Greenfield’s Martin’s Farm will take compostable material for free and will deliver some of the richest compost around. But, as my foul, shattered bin reminds me, you have to get it there first. And it’s messy.

Fortunately, there a couple of new alternatives for the compost-finicky.

City Compost is making presence in Franklin County, according to its representative Adam Jankauskas. City Compost, located in Gardner and already serving about 700 customers statewide, will pick up your household waste in a fresh, unsullied and secure bucket every week. They handle any digging and return “a square foot of growing space” in the form of compost. They aim for the highest quality and cleanest compost, specifically for nourishing food production.

One of their biggest selling points is a growing roster of services, including composting workshops and edible food recovery, and serving clients ranging from homes, schools and restaurants to farmers markets, offices and community gardens. They also collect virtually all cooked and raw foods, including meat, sauces and dressings. No more messy separating.

“We are able to keep out all pests and other animals,” said Jankauskas. The cost of the service starts at $5 per week, or $7 every other week. Learn more by visiting: www.citycompost.com.

Then there’s this: What do you get when you combine bicycles, worker-ownership, job opportunities for former inmates and a redirection of institutional waste into black earth? Greenfield-based Compost Co-op, the kind of progressive dream-come-true that thrives in Franklin County, that is aiming to scale up in 2018. The outgrowth of a Greenfield Community College program at the Franklin County jail, the co-op has set its sights on redirecting some pretty large waste streams as well as serving households. The co-op is also teaming up with Martin’s Farm to get compost back into the community for farms and gardens.

Monthly rates start at $24 for weekly people-powered pick-up and $15 for bi-weekly pick-up. Visit its website at: www.thecompostcooperative.com to learn more.

The Cutting Board

Feed Me! (Please): Speaking of people-powered efforts, this column is reader-powered. But, as we head toward next week’s Winter Fare, which traditionally precedes Greenfield’s Winter Carnival, my cupboard is bare. I need a quick infusion of your hearty, healthy, quirky, indulgent, messy and immaculate recipes — contributions that will not only get us through Winter Fare, but through the long, lonely weeks until planting season. And while you are at it, send along whatever stories you may have connected with those recipes. There is an intimate connection between good stories and good food. And I’m really hungry.

Winter Workshoping: Both CISA and UMass Extension are offering workshops of interest to home gardeners and small-scale farmers alike. We’ll keep you up to date on what’s being offered as weeks progress, but you can also see CISA’s workshop schedule at: bit.ly/2Dv85JQ, and Extension’s Mass Aggie Seminars at bit.ly/2BjkXNa. Home landscape and garden resources are at bit.ly/2n0vaK0. CISA will present “Produce Safety Alliance Grower Training” on Feb. 6, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m at Holyoke Community College. Mass Aggie Seminars begin on Feb. 24 with “Pruning Grapes: A Hands-on Workshop,” held at UMass Cold Spring Orchard, 391 Sabin St., Belchertown, from 10 a.m. to noon. There is a $35 fee.

Wesley Blixt lives in Greenfield. He is a longtime reporter and is the author of “SKATERS: A Novel.” Send him recipes, stories and suggestions at: wesleyblixt@me.com.