Extreme Composting at Union Seminary!

EXTREME COMPOSTING- brought to you by the Edible Churchyard!

If there is one thing that the Edible Churchyard is known for at Union, it’s composting. Composting is the one thing we do that reminds us that even in a city environment, there are simple ways to create a holistic relationship with the sacred earth. But why do we compost?

One of the biggest environmental hazards produced by rotting garbage is methane gas. Methane is one of the “greenhouse gases” which contribute to climate change. Methane occurs naturally in wetlands, volcanos and other sources, but it is also produced by livestock and is a byproduct of large amounts of rotting human waste (like landfills). Methane leaching into the soil (along with heavy metals and other toxins) is one of the chief dangers of landfills. At one point in the 1990s NYC’s infamous Fresh Kills landfill was thought to be the largest human-made structure in the world. Over 20 years ago, Fresh Kills became the symbol of a waste management crisis that lead to the start of mandatory recycling in New York. When we compost, we keep waste out of landfills by utilizing systems which replenish, rather than contaminate, the environment.

So what is “extreme” about Union’s composting efforts? In a word: bokashi. Bokashi composting is extreme for two reasons: first, it only takes two weeks for compost prepared using the bokashi method to become usable, as opposed to the weeks and even months for other methods. Some other composting techniques can take up to a year to produce a usable soil-additive. Second, with bokashi, you can compost nearly everything—including pits and corn cobs, meat, dairy, and shredded paper. What is the source of this magic? Fermentation. In essence, bokashi is pickled food waste. Bokashi is a Japanese method, and, in Japanese, the word simply means organic, fermented waste. In addition, a substance called EM-1 Microbial Inoculant, a solution of microbes that speeds up the process of fermentation, also separates bokashi composting from other forms of composting. The same processes that are used in pickling and beer are at work in Bokashi.

Microbes are our Friends!
One of the chief benefits that compost can provide, besides putting nutrients back into soil and reducing landfills, is bio-remediation. Through bio-remediation, depleted or toxic soil with large amounts of lead, arsenic, and other toxic by-products of industry can be made usable again. This is a boon particularly in urban areas where soil toxicity is a pernicious and pervasive concern. Bokashi, once it has reached its final stage, is then “trenched” into the planting area. We are currently working with a consultant through the Horticultural Society of New York to begin a program of monitoring and analyzing the changes in soil composition and toxicity using this affordable and accessible method of bioremediation. While remediating the soil, it also puts organic matter into the soil, improving its quality and efficacy for gardening. The Edible Churchyard’s Cooking and Consciousness Intern, Kristen Psaki, told me that the local Harlem Truce Garden uses their bokashi to great effect. “Within a matter of weeks, they told me that previously unproductive soil was showing signs of life, such as earth worms. That is always a good sign that soil is on its way back.”

Overall, bokashi is particularly simple. It is also well-suited to an urban environment as it uses little space. In fact, you can easily create a small, odorless composting system under your sink, and then bring it to a garden site to contribute to the soil.

Compost technology has come a long way. When I was a child working on my family’s tiny “hobby” farm in New Jersey, the labor involved in my father’s compost project was cumbersome— my father would turn layers of field clippings with a pitchfork until the compost practically boiled in the sun. Our compost pile was open air—giving off steam and stink to such a degree that I didn’t want to come near it with a ten-foot pole! This made a big impression on me. Thankfully, bokashi and other composting methods have made it easier for even the average New Yorker to deal with their waste conscientiously. By being just a little bit more aware of where you place your food waste, you can participate in reducing pollution and replenishing the earth at the same time.

For more info on composting, drop us a line or speak to Kristen at Community Lunch! She will be taking your food scraps until our bin is full.

Yours in microbial togetherness,

Valerie Freseman
Education and Outreach Intern

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