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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sustainability People

Sustainable Community gardens require many inputs. I can tick them off for you: water, soil, compost, seeds, pollinators, tools and labor. Since we are talking about what is primarily an urban activity we also have to include political and social sustainability. While labor and the physical inputs are important the more I research policy and permanency for community gardens, the issue keeps coming around to people. The passion and dedication of individuals in all of the input areas of community gardens is another major input that is usually overlooked. There are many dedicated individuals who spend countless hours volunteering in the gardens and attending meetings whose time and energy are crucial to the sustainability of community gardens.

In order to have a sustainable garden or farm, the soil has to have the necessary nutrients and structure for vegetables and fruit to flourish. If we want to have organic fruit and vegetables that means we have to have compost. In an urban area there is plenty of compostable materials; leaves, woody material, textiles, and food scraps are in abundance in most urban waste streams. In New York City that is 41% of household waste that can be recycled in source separated systems or in industrial compost systems. In tonnage that is 4920 tons per day. A very small percentage of that is being composted today but  PlaNYC has as a stated goal to create and expand systems to reduce the amount of materials being landfilled and composting can be a major part of this initiative.

Easy to make such a pronouncement but maybe not so easy to implement. There are a few small organizations and individuals that are dedicated to composting. Most have been doing organic waste projects for a number of years before PlaNYC. In fact PlaNYC is counting heavily on these folks to make this happen. Hopefully the municipal funds will be there to support these largely volunteer efforts. I have written here about Compost for Brooklyn and the Fort Greene Compost Project which was the pioneer group that showed how food scraps could be collected at GreenMarkets and composted locally. This has grown from a pilot at one greenmarket site to 11 sites. This project has collected 364,731 pounds in less than 1 year. Lower East Side Ecology Center has been composting local food waste since 1990 and continues to be a pioneer in setting up systems for organic waste recycling.

A relative newcomer to the city's neighborhood composting picture is the Western Queens Compost Initiative which brings me to the people part of the sustainability equation. Each of the projects I have listed is the brainchild and labor of love of one key person (often with assistance of hardworking volunteers). At Fort Greene it is Charley Bayre; at compost for Brooklyn, Louise Bruce; at Lower East Side Ecology Center, Christina Datz and at Western Queens, Stephanos Koullias. I spent a few minutes the other day speaking with Stephanos about the logistics of making this part of the sustainability equation work. The Western Queens Compost Initiative has set up an aerated static pile system to compost some of the Greenmarket food scraps. This is a low input system that seems to be ideal for urban systems. There is no need to turn windrows, so a tractor is not needed. It took a lot of coordination and dedication to the effort on the part of Stephanos to make this happen.

Even though compost will just happen if organic waste is left to it's own devices. In New York City that is definitely not the case. Without the people input of passion and dedication  these compost projects would not happen. In terms of creating a sustainable city and sustainable community gardens, compost is a key piece of the puzzle and the pivotal role of Community Gardening in sustainable systems is dependent on these dedicated sustainability people.