Wednesday, June 06, 2012

What's So Hard About Composting?

First published in the May 23, 2012 issue of The Oxford Journal by Sara Mattinson.

The dogs were barking like crazy as a man walked over to our property dragging two wheeled green bins behind him and for a split second, I considered letting them out to chase him away. What do we need with two green carts, after all? 
The county is handing them out to each civic number so even the empty lots like the one next to us gets a cart so I fetched the carts from the curb and parked them next to our two half-full composters. 
The first thing I did when I moved here six springs ago was set up a composter. Languishing as I was in a large town in Ontario, I’d actually developed a twitch that struck every time I put a banana peel or egg shell in the garbage can. I had waited years to have a composter because it is simply the best value-added way to deal with household organics – less into the garbage can and a by-product that makes more food grow. Yet here was the county passing out large, wheeled green bins for household organics so they could take them away. I’d never see my egg shells and banana peels again.  
So another Myth of Country Living is crushed by the reality of modern life: very few people are raising their own food these days. Not everyone who lives on a rural route has a garden and not everyone composts for the sake of having that wonderful black soil that comes out the hatch in the bottom (yes, that’s what that is for).
To confirm the demise of my long-held belief, I called a couple of neighbours to see how they felt about the handy-dandy green carts and discovered that there are three types of people out there: Those who compost to use the by-product, those who throw their organics out behind the barn or out in a field, and those who use a garburator.
“I don’t have a composter and I won’t use a green cart because of the bears who walk through our yard,” said one garburating woman.
Another man is already using his to store his garbage bags in until garbage day while my husband figures we can use them to store chicken and rabbit feed. My 86-year-old father-in-law doesn’t know how he’s supposed to drag the cart up his mile-long driveway every two weeks. 
For some reason, I am shocked by all of this: by the lack of composting, by using drinking water to flush food waste into our already-besieged water systems, by our ever-growing distance from the earth and the fact that our food actually grows in dirt (not at the grocery store). As someone born and raised in town who broke her back making gardens as soon as she moved to rural Nova Scotia, I can’t believe compostable materials get no respect.   
Then I walked into my friend Angela’s kitchen and there on her kitchen counter was the little bin from inside the green cart, and it was already half-full.
“I quite like it,” my friend says of the new composting system. “Everything that is wet waste goes into the green bin, including bones. Now that we are limited to one privacy bag, we have to save those for cat litter and bathroom garbage.”
Angela says they’ve always composted but, without gardens, never had any use for it. 
“I’m known for throwing out it in the yard then mowing over it,” she laughs. “This is a better way to deal with our waste.”
A fascinating split in opinions but it seems I’m alone in my enthusiasm for creating compost. It’s the enthusiasm of the converted city girl for being connected to the land, for growing my own food, and for smelling that crumbly, pungent soil that makes my roses robust, my tomatoes tasty, and my lilies lively.

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