The Compost Collective by Meredyth Holmes

New Yorkers accumulate so much trash that we are rapidly running out of landfill space. The average New Yorker city resident creates three pounds of trash each day. With 8 million people in this city, that’s roughly 8.7 billion pounds of garbage per year. And about a third of that is being shipped off to other states. So is it enough to sort out our recyclables from the rest of our trash? The answer is no.

I always believed that it was ok to put biodegradable trash like banana peels in the trash. But when it sits in a landfill, it decomposes very slowly, which leads to excess methane gas and speeds global warming. Plus it does nothing to contribute to more nutritious soil. Composting is vital to the health of or planet, and while it may be intimidating for some, it is made easy by The Compost Collective.

The Compost Collective is conveniently located at The Church in the Gardens, where Forest Hills CSA members pick up their produce every week. They collect biodegradable trash during CSA pickup hours, on Tuesdays from 5:30-7:30.

The Compost Collective is one of the few composting sites that will give you free compost for your garden! The only requirement is that one household member must take their free one-hour course, held on the last saturday of each month at noon at The Church in the Gardens. To sign up, send an email to info@compostcollective.com.

Carlos Pesantes is responsible for creating the collective. Additional volunteers who were interviewed include Sakura Suzuki, Natalie DeFerrari and Vanessa Deferrari.

How did The Compost Collective get started?

Carlos: The collective got started three years ago. It started as a greening project at The Church in the Gardens. I was looking for a project and since I am a church member and a CSA member, I saw an opportunity to use the vacant lot in back of the church. I asked the pastor Rev. Noel Vaneck if I could use the church’s space and he agreed. Their only requirement was that I get educated. So I took a master compost course — a free course provided by the NYC Compost Project within the department of sanitation. Then I started recruiting like-minded people to help me run the compost, including my wife.

What specifically do you need to compost?

Sakura: Composting is pretty easy. You just need the right materials, and if you compost properly it will not smell. First, you need a brown pile and a green pile. The green pile is the food scraps like coffee grinds, fruits, and veggies. The brown pile is stuff like sawdust and wood chips. The balance of both helps make a healthy decomposition process. You can keep your food scraps in something as simple as a milk or yogurt container and store in in the fridge or the freezer until the drop off day. At the site we have a composting tool called an aerator that looks like a cork http://foresthillscsa.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/DSC02448.jpegscrew. This helps to mix the brown and green pile so that the compost does not smell, and it creates a balanced environment for healthy soil.

How does composting contribute to healthier food?

Carlos: It is about balance. If you take a human being and boost them on steroids so they have big muscles, they are typically unhealthy on the inside. It is the same thing for plants. The composting process is about balancing as well, starting with two types of trash, aerobic and anaerobic trash. Aerobic means with air and anaerobic means without air. When we use the aerator tool, it deposits air into the trash. This allows all these little living creatures, like centipedes and earthworms, to create healthy fungus and bacteria that help decompose the trash to make it a healthy living soil for plants to thrive. When you use compost on your plants you are saying no to damaging chemical fertilizers and fertilizing your soil in a much more organic, natural way. Plants grown with compost are much healthier and more balanced.

How have you seen the program grow?

Carlos: In the beginning we had only two bins and we were producing about 3,000 pounds of compost. Now we are producing about 10,000 pounds. We have had volunteers here go on to full time positions at the NY compost project. Having Sakura on the team has propelled us to a new level. Rene Revera has really helped organize the group. We have also helped kids get involved in composting and environmental improvement. For example, there is a youth group in Kew Gardens led by a local teacher, and they decided to beautify the space behind the Kew Gardens Cinema. We helped them create raised beds, clean up and offered wood material, saw dust, compost, and our staff to clean up everything in one day. We have volunteers going there every week to help maintain the site also. They hold events including outdoor fairs, dance classes and flea markets there, so we helped make a little bit of a difference to beautify the space and build community. We have also given composting classes to the girl scouts and boy scouts and helped the Kew Forest School create it’s own compost site.

How do people get involved?

Carlos: Go to thecompostcollective.com or email info@compostcollective.com attention Sakura Sasuki, the volunteer coordinator. We have to thank CSA for filling up at least half of our Tuesday evenings with new volunteers. CSA also has helped us finance our bins, they put up half of the money for the purchase. We knew CSA would be of the same mindset being that many members join to help make a difference. Everybody has different talents, so whatever talent you can bring to our collective, be it organizing, teaching, gardening, all of it can be a great help to our collective.

What is the best way to spread the word to others about composting?

Carlos: Just talk about it. Let people know it is the fastest way and cheapest way to cut down on tons of garbage. But more important than talking about it is doing it, and setting a good example for others to follow. It does not cost anything if you use our resources, and all you need is a little bit of effort to make a big difference.

You can learn more about The Compost Collective at thecompostcollective.com or find them on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/FeedTheGardensCompostBins.

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Carlos and a volunteer dig out an avocado plant that grew in the compost, to give to Meredyth

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