Returning To The Earth

Young couple with their first garden.

Many years ago, I accepted a job transfer to New Jersey and my wife and I bought our first home.  (Actually, the bank owned more of it than we did.)  We met our neighbors, made new friends, and learned that most of them had a garden; we decided to try it too.  And along with our garden, we learned about the benefits of composting, especially to enrich our soil for next years garden.  Many years later, after we retired, we decided to downsize our house in Austin and moved into a condo – no more yard. 

What I didn’t appreciate when we were composting was, in addition to enriching our garden, how we were benefiting the environment.  In an earlier post (What Matters Most) I described how, according to the book, Drawdown, reducing our food waste is the third most significant thing we can do to reduce global warming.  Number 3 out of 100 ways to reduce global warming – a really big deal! And in Worms – Friends of Our Planet, according to the U.S.D.A., we waste a lot of food.  “In the United States, food waste is estimated at between 30-40 percent of the food supply.”  The best things we can do to reduce food waste are: (1) buy only what we need; (2) feed hungry people; and (3) feed animals – all much better options than simply sending our food waste to a landfill.   Because, when food is disposed in a landfill it rots and becomes a significant source of methane – a potent greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

Another option to the landfill is to compost the waste.  The EPA describes compost as follows:

Compost is organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow. Food scraps and yard waste together currently make up more than 28 percent of what we throw away, and should be composted instead. Making compost keeps these materials out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

This EPA site explains the basics of how to compost at home, and there are many home-made and commercial products that can be used to effectively compost, if you have some space in your yard.

But if you live in a condo (like we do) composting on any useful scale is not practical.  But recently I learned about an organization called Kids That Compost.  When you sign up for this $20/month service, you are provided a 5-gallon compost bin with a lid and a liner (photo at right).  Once a week, you place your bin, with the liner full of food scraps, on your porch or driveway where it is picked up, and you are provided a new liner for the next week.  Your food scraps and other compostable waste are then taken to commercial facilities that process them into compost or “black gold”.  This “black gold” is ultimately sold to commercial, wholesale and retail markets to enrich the soil.

Recently I’ve been reading a series of essays by Wendell Berry from the book the art of the commonplace.  Berry is a philosopher, teacher and writer that believes in an agrarian alternative to our dominant, urban culture.  He explains the importance of gardening this way:

“… I can think of no better form of personal involvement in the cure of the environment than that of gardening.  A person who is growing a garden, if he is growing it organically, is improving a piece of the world. … The food he grows will be fresher, more nutritious, less contaminated by poisons and preservatives and dye than he can buy in a store.  He is reducing the trash problem; a garden is not a disposable container, and will digest and reuse its own wastes.”

In a broader sense, Berry addresses the importance of “the community” as compared to the “independence of individuals” and the way we, as American might think of things.

“We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world…We have been wrong.  We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us.” 

This was the same theme I attempted to address in We and Menamely the importance of thinking about the community (WE) in lieu of only considering what I (ME) wanted.  This idea comes into play locally when the community is asked to take steps to reduce the spread of the coronavirus (e.g., social distancing, wearing a mask, hand washing) as well as worldwide in caring about our planet, threatened by climate change.

Placing a bin full of food scraps might not seem significant enough to bother.  How much of the planet am I going to save by this act – and it costs $20 per month.  But it is something I can do, that I know is the right thing to do.  It’s a choice I can make.  And just maybe, more people will begin to think of their community and not just what, as individuals they want to do.  And if this occurs, our society and our planet will be better off .

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