in Greener Homes on 7 June 2010
Community composting improves your sense of humus.
SEVERAL afternoons a week, Glenda Lindsay pedals to two cafés near her home in Fitzroy. It’s not from their coffee she gets her buzz, but from their spent grounds and potato peels.
“Compost is an obvious connection in the food chain between the people cooking and selling food, and the people growing it,” she says. “When you use kitchen scraps from those businesses to create beautiful soil for growing food in, it helps join the dots.”
Last year, Ms Lindsay helped coordinate Compost Mates, a six-month trial in which teams of householders were rostered to pick up the compostable kitchen scraps from four cafes in Melbourne’s inner north. “That material would otherwise end up in mixed landfill producing methane,” she says.
The trial was run by food-growing advocate, Cultivating Community. Peta Christensen, from the organisation, says even at a small scale the scheme had a significant effect, because methane is such a potent greenhouse gas. “According to our calculations, across the four cafes, it was the equivalent of taking 100 cars off the road for a year.
“The model is about reclaiming that waste and using it as a resource in the community. Anyone can get a few neighbours together, make a roster and approach the local café,” she says.
It’s an idea that also works well for community gardens and schools. The Compost Mates trial included Fitzroy Primary School, which collects scraps from a nearby café for its school garden program.
For most enthusiasts, composting is a clandestine passion. Ms Christensen argues, however, that it makes a perfect collective activity. “Lots of people want to compost but they live in an apartment, don’t have the skills or worry it’s going to turn into a mess. Team-supported composting makes lots of sense.”
Community composting projects vary, from more formal proposals such as council collection or bike-powered tumblers in parks, to casual arrangements between neighbours. In the Sydney suburb Chippendale, the residents of Myrtle Street have installed compost bins on the footpath. Locally, residents involved in Transition Darebin held a public autumn leaf harvest. The fallen leaves help build healthy compost – they’re an excellent carbon-rich balance to the nitrogen-rich vegie scraps.
If you’re keen to try but would prefer not to bare your innermost peelings with your neighbours, most councils run home composting workshops or offer discounted bins. Contact your council for more information.
In her backyard, Ms Lindsay has several cubic metres of compost cooking at once. “In the city, there’s something very grounding about growing even the smallest bit of your own food,” she says, “just to see the miracle of the seed that goes in the soil and produces something you can eat.”
She recalls the proverb that “houses are the last crop of the land,” but is adamant that we must not let it be so. “It makes sense to try and grow as much food as close as possible to centres of population, but city land has often been neglected or contaminated.
“Compost is a really important factor in remediating soil – it increases its water retention and the nutritional value of food grown in it. With all of these food businesses in Melbourne, we have an amazing resource at our fingertips.”