Our View: Ready to compost?


Anybody remember the “Garden Song”?

“Inch by inch, row by row

Gonna make this garden grow

Gonna mulch it deep and low

Gonna make it fertile ground …”

Written by David Mallett in 1975, according to Wikipedia, it’s been recorded by musicians as beloved as Pete Seeger and John Denver and as offbeat as John Lithgow (who knew he even sang?) and The Muppets. (Hint: Watch Mallett’s on YouTube.)

We’re pretty sure we’re not the only people who recalled that sweet song when reading about the city’s upcoming program to make recycling residential- and business-generated organic waste into compost to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

On its surface, “Garden Song” is about gardening, planting seeds, waiting for rain, fighting pests, coping with zucchini overproduction and the like.

But it’s also about the entire life cycle. The songwriter muses that his own life will some day come to an end, and that he must “find my way in nature’s chain.”

What’s that? Nature’s chain? Alas, it’s a concept entirely left out of most school curricula. Those who learn about it – before facing our own mortality – are lucky.

We Americans are far removed from the production of our sustenance (excepting our rancher, farmer and gardener friends, of course). Our zucchinis all too often come wrapped in plastic, nestled on plastic trays that cost more than the vegetable itself and contribute to greenhouse gases and a host of other related problems. We can get blueberries anywhere in the country, year-round, even though in the U.S. they are grown primarily on the coasts and are harvested only April-October. So we get blueberries in winter from South America; ever wonder what that packaging and transportation does to their price and freshness, or what it costs us in energy?

The point is, most Americans know too little about the sources of their food and how difficult it is to grow and raise, and because of government agricultural supports, we don’t even know what realistic price tags would look like.

If we are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ultimately save ourselves and the planet from climate disaster, we have a lot of work to do. We know about the big initiatives, but we can also take other small actions that, when combined with societal efforts, can make a big difference.

Composting is one of those small things that can make a big difference.

Since the 1990s, many American cities – Berkeley, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Denver and Boulder, just to name a few – have integrated composting into their waste management programs and reduced their landfill-bound trash by up to 78%.

Such composting is simple: Typically residents are provided with small, gallon-sized plastic containers with lids that fit easily under the sink. Leftover food products (with a few exceptions) go into the container and (sometimes) are put into larger landscape refuse bins for collection on recycling days. It’s easy. (And no, it’s not stinky.)

The details of the city’s composting program aren’t yet available, since the contract hasn’t been awarded, but assuming the third-party provider relies on proven metrics and means, we’re pretty sure it will be an overall win, especially if end-use compost is repurposed for mulching, planting and managing parks and greenbelts. Hopefully there will be some left over for home gardeners as well.

In the meantime, let’s make it a point to talk with young people about nature’s chain, about where our food comes from, and why we must appreciate the process of growing and raising what sustains us – along with the Earth from which it comes, as Garden Song reminds us:

“Plant your rows straight and long

Season with a prayer and song

Mother Earth will make you strong

If you give her loving care.”