Feeling Good About Composting

Today is Blog Action Day. This year, the topic is climate change.

Climate change… To me it feels like a buzzword, a “hot topic” (no pun intended), a current trendy thing to be up-in-arms about. It is on everyone’s lips and minds as we trudge through countless articles on the melting of the Northern ice shelves, frequent “century” storms, global warming, and scientists telling us about the differences in the seasons from forty years ago. A poignant article I read recently talked about the changes to Inuit hunting because the ice goes out sooner, and stays away longer.

The screaming masses make us scramble with our re-usable shopping bags to relieve our guilt for using generic plastic bags, cars, and chemicals. We strive to be green, do our part, make sure we Recycle, Reuse, and Repurpose. Cut back our waste, eat local, eat organic, bicycle, walk, take public transit. Plant trees, buy carbon offset credits, drive a hybrid car, make our own cleaning products, and drink ethically planted and sourced coffee from a reusable tumbler.

However, I don’t think this concept of living frugally, “greenly”, and conciously is new. Celebrities push the glamorous things to do, media splashes the doom and gloom stories with experts warning us of impending catastrophe, making us all the more. It’s become trendy again, perhaps moreso than the last upswing in the late 80’s and early 90’s, but everywhere you go now, you see the colour green and slogans edicting us to Do Our Part.

I have been Doing My Part for most of my life. I recycle avidly, I re-use as much as I can, and I also endeavour to repurpose, i.e. I buy used when I can, and donate/sell on used goods as much as I can. I try not to be a consumer (as my life changes ebb and flow, this is sometimes harder to do), and even though I do not use cloth diapers or buy only hemp/organic/cotton only clothing, I don’t buy clothing or shoes or personal items just for the sake of having them anymore. We don’t own fancy furniture, we minimize our need for “things”, and we do NOT use scented products to clean our home.

But, in all this, my favorite, and most rewarding personal action to be environmentally concious, is to compost. More precisely, I (and my husband now) plant gardens without chemicals that provide us with fruit, vegetables, and herbs that last us for the year. We keep two. One at my childhood farm, and one at our city home. I have planted and ate from gardens most of my life, and my husband, who was only familiar with flower gardening when we met, is now a convert, and amazingly, more zealous than me.

My son seems enamoured too, spending his weekends pulling carrots or beets out by the fistful, when let loose into our vegetable patch.

From the age of three, I lived on a farm with my family. In the back yard, we had a monstrous vegetable patch that every year would brim with food. Most of this food was preserved in re-usable glass jars, and fed us all winter. All the weeds and waste went into a massive compost pile that on cold mornings in the Spring and Fall, would have tendrils of steam wafting off of it. I would often sit on Saturdays at the big kitchen table, facing the back window, and watch the steam in the slanting morning sunlight, slowly munching on my toast and committing the strangely beautiful scene to memory.

I say strangely, because when I was a child, I hated that compost pile. I dreaded the inevitable chore of lugging the full compost bucket, which at one point was as big as me. I would drag it, my father’s extra-large work gloves flopping on my hands, as I tugged and trudged all the way from the back step down to the pile to heave the bucket haphazardly onto the pile. Egg shells, coffee filters and leftover bits of food with a stench that today still makes me gag involuntarily would tumble out in a jumble to rot quietly back to soil to put onto the garden bed, and roto-tilled in for next year’s crop. Paper, dog hair, leaves, dead mice from the house that the cats would present to us at the doorstep… it all went into “the pile”.

In the Fall, the pumpkins and squash that would grow from the seeds placed in the compost from meals the year before would gleam golden on the top of the patch, and it was my job to clamber up the soft, mucky pile to pick them. This compost pile, believe it or not, was as old as the farm, started when the house was built in the 1880’s. Used for the garden over the years, the bottom of it was always pure vegetable-growing gold.

We plan on digging into the now grassed over hillock to find some good dirt for our garden this Fall. It is no longer used by my father, the sole inhabitant in the house. Times have changed, and with it our patterns of composting.

We use a slat-bin close to our much smaller garden now for our garden compost, and because bears have moved into the area, we can no longer compost household kitchen waste in a big mucky, steaming pile. It goes into a black square tower-like thing, which the squirrels chew holes in every year, and we patch it with wire mesh and bolts. The bear still topples our garden bin every year, which is fine, since when he does, we simply flip it and thank him for doing some of the work for us.

So how does composting help our climate? its such a small thing, really, its a blip on the map of “things-you-can-do”.

In a simple sense, it cuts down on the waste going into the landfill, period. Less waste in the trash can means something over time. With composting, recycling, and re-using, my father puts a small bag of garbage out every two weeks at the farm. With our family of three in the city, we put out one per week. We can’t compost kitchen waste yet, which irks us. We have an extended family of raccoons living in a run down property in our vicinity, and they delight in ripping apart garbage left unlocked, and compost bins, no matter how Fort Knox-like they are. But City Green Bins are coming, and this makes us glad. It will cut back our garbage each week to perhaps a small bag, instead of a regular sized one.

But cutting down on waste is one aspect. Another is the re-using of our leftover substances, made from the Earth, returning to the Earth in some way. It in turn, helps us to replenish nutrients to our soil, and grows bigger and better vegetables and fruit without the use of chemicals.

We feel good about doing it, which is also, I think, important. As adults, we cannot effect a better world climate if the things we do are unpleasant, or hard to do.

I remind myself that when I was six, and dragging that terrible compost bucket, I did not equate the nasty chore to being environmentally concious. It was just what we did. We gardened, we recycled, we composted, we re-used, and repurposed. I hated it. it was work, and cut into my play-time.

Now I look back fondly, as we all do, and realize that I was instilled with the concepts of living green at a very young age. Perhaps I can use that knowledge, when my son gets to lug the compost bucket to the green bin someday, to make it less of a chore to be hated, and more of an accomplishment to feel good about.


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