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Force of nature

Weed Woman tackles garden menace, promotes composting

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Laura Herbert of Erving is the “Weed Woman” who will come to the aid of needy gardens and weed them for free.

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Laura Herbert of Erving is the “Weed Woman” who will come to the aid of needy gardens and weed them for free.

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Laura Herbert of Erving is the “Compost Queen” who will collect your compost for a fee and return some of the ‘black gold’ if you wish.

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Laura Herbert of Erving is the “Compost Queen” who will collect your compost for a fee and return some of the ‘black gold’ if you wish.

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Laura Herbert of Erving is the “Weed Woman” who will come to the aid of needy gardens and weed them for free.

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Laura Herbert of Erving is the “Weed Woman” who will come to the aid of needy gardens and weed them for free.

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Laura Herbert of Erving is the “Weed Woman” who will come to the aid of needy gardens and weed them for free.
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Laura Herbert of Erving is the “Compost Queen” who will collect your compost for a fee and return some of the ‘black gold’ if you wish.
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Laura Herbert of Erving is the “Weed Woman” who will come to the aid of needy gardens and weed them for free.

ERVING — Got crabgrass crowding out the veggie patch?

Who you gonna call?

Weed Woman!

Just when you think all is quiet and serene in the garden, including prickly lettuce where your planted lettuce should be growing, there’s Weed Woman, in her W-emblazoned green leotard and green leaf mask, with yellow shorts, gloves and sneakers, pulling out the dastardly dandelions and lamb’s quarters with a hand rake.

What’s going on here?

It’s a not-quite random act of kindness from Weed Woman, aka Laura Herbert, who enjoys helping vegetable gardeners who lose their way in putting food on their tables because of the chore that she finds many people loathe.

And if that persona isn’t enough, Herbert changes into the “Compost Queen” as a way to pay her bills — while also encouraging people to help the environment.

“Ultimately, my goal is to get more people composting, and I think this service would make their lives a lot better and make the community better, too,” she says. “I want to show people that one person is not going to feed the world, but there are things we all can do.”

Herbert, who moved to town eight years ago with her boyfriend, a corporate team-building trainer, and who worked for seven years as his right-hand woman — “the invisible person that did everything, from bookkeeping, event managing, logistics and hiring” — decided it wasn’t what she was cut out to do.

Her true passion was out in their backyard garden, where Herbert, who’d worked as an environmental educator for several years in her native New York state, loved to be.

With an elementary education degree already under her belt, she enrolled in a University of Massachusetts graduate program in environmental conservation, but took a hiatus to deal with family health issues.

“There was a lot of pressure to keep up with everything, and all I felt I could do was weed my garden,” remembers Herbert, who is now 36. “It was really meditative, calming and grounding, and I feel it kept me sane.”

It was while she was out there weeding one day last spring when she had her fantasy: “I could sneak into other people’s gardens and weed for them as a surprise. They’d look out later and say, ‘Oh my gosh! How did that happen?’”

In her reverie, Weed Woman mused, “If I could do this for people, it would just be my gift to the community in helping that local food movement. People loathe doing the weeding, or they don’t have time, and it really prevents them from carrying out that vision of growing food. They just let the weeds take over, and it becomes overwhelming, and daunting for them.”

Maybe this good garden Samaritan superhero had spent too long being the invisible partner for her boyfriend’s business, but she eventually awoke to the dangers of surprising people in their yards.

“How would I sneak into their gardens? Would they sic their dogs on me or come after me with their shotguns? Would it be at night?”

So Weed Woman decided to ask permission, or wait to be invited, before donning her green and yellow garb and going into other people’s needy, weedy vegetable patches.

“Once I came up with the idea, I loved it. It’s so me,” she says with a laugh.

“I’m a really playful person, and I love connecting with fun and enjoyment in life. I know it sounds totally crazy. Well, not crazy, but a little offbeat.”

Yet there are limits, even for Herbert, who also loves performing as “Lady Elvis.”

Weed Woman’s limit is two hours per person, depending on her availability. And since her motivation is “to promote sustainability and local food culture,” she limits her volunteering to veggie gardens. (She accepts donations, but says they’re all passed on to organizations, preferably local, that work on sustainability issues.)

“It’s not because I don’t like flowers,” she says. “I’m offering this free service and I can’t do everything. And I just do weeds; you’re on your own with potato beetles.”

Compost for profit

Weed Woman drew a cartoon-like sketch of her costume — complete with the mask she got at Montague’s Mutton and Mead Festival but which winds up being too hot and hard to see through while actually weeding — for her weedwoman.org website.

And also one of her Compost Queen.

Herbert’s composting venture popped into her head when she realized how many people don’t compost, either because they don’t have the time, space or inclination.

“Composting seems like a no-brainer, a natural thing that everybody should be doing,” she says. Given the fact that several cities, including Boston, have curbside compost collections, “I see a movement toward making it part of everyday life, the way curbside recycling is. If you put out your recycling, in a way you feel you’re off the hook, you’ve done your part. But I really strongly feel we need to be doing lot more right now.”

So Herbert’s composting service involves her bringing 5-gallon buckets for food scraps to customers in Greenfield, Turners Falls, Gill, Bernardston, Northfield, Erving, Montague and Deerfield on a weekly, biweekly or monthly basis and returning with a bucket of compost to replace it.

She lets the compost make itself in three wooden-pallet bins, with little concern about the right mix of carbon and nitrogen, aeration and moisture.

Those customers can opt out of the compost if they don’t want it and simply know that they’re cutting down on their trash bills and on landfill space somewhere.

Herbert says she hasn’t planned on a costume for her Compost Queen business as she’s done with Weed Woman and Lady Elvis. But she adds with a laugh, “I was kind of thinking it would be fun to have a crown or something.’ To see that, you’ll just have to go to her thecompostqueen.com website.

“My boyfriend says to me, ‘Why does everything you do have a superhero?’ like there’s a psychological thing going on, like I have to save the world by impersonating Elvis or being Weed Woman!” she says with a laugh. But then again, she’s surrounded as she speaks by a living room ringed by HIS comic book collection: cartons of Marvel and DC Comics like “Saga of the Swamp Thing.”

But there’s more to it, Herbert says.

“That’s just who I am, I feel there are so many heavy, weighty things bearing down on us, and I want to remind people there’s a lot of joy in life, a lot of things to be celebrated.” If I can make people smile and brighten their day while doing something I really care about, then that’s where my heart is.”

But will Weed Woman, who launched her volunteer effort last summer and her compost business in April, still have time to tend her own garden?

“That,” she admits, “remains to be seen.”

On the Web: www.weedwoman.org
www.thecompostwqueen.com
www.ladyelvis.com

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