Saturday, February 27, 2010

CASE STUDY: Fort Greene Compost Project

By Ray Ray Mitrano

There are people in Brooklyn composting. There are people in Fort Greene, Brooklyn composting. There are people at the Fort Greene Farmer's Market in Fort Greene, Brooklyn composting. Every Saturday.

Since October 2005, a group of neighbors and CENYC Greenmarket goers have been running a non-profit compost drop-off system that has utilized local community gardens and the prodigious amounts of food-scraps people produce in their homes each week. A specialized tricycle, usually ridden by Fort Greene resident Charlie Bayrer, has made trips back and forth from the participating gardens; delivering bags packed full of potato peels, coffee grounds and many egg shells.

It has not only created plenty of rich soil. "Composting has dramatically reduced the amount of garbage I send to the landfill each week." says Rebecca Ditsch, a Fort Greene composter. For many who use their freezer as a way to store the weekly collection, it also greatly reduces the smell of their household garbage. This storing technique can be seen on a hot summer morning: bins of organic matter vaporizing as their lids open and close.

Today, the Fort Greene Compost Project amasses 1300+ pounds weekly. About 30 black garbage bags. Some of the gardens have had to reduce their intake to once a month. Earlier this spring, Added Value's Red Hook Farm agreed to take some of the load and has had their composting system reevaluated in the process.

Charlie, the beating heart of this operation (it is he who sets up the containers, rides the trike and supplies garbage bags) composed the building of wood and wire crates for holding piles of food-waste-to-be-rich-fertilizer on the south Brooklyn lot. Along with RICE, a New York based chain of restaurants that compost a large portion of their own leftovers, Fort Greene Compost Project contributes to the once seasonally maintained area. Usually, the farm sets aside it's compost activity during the winter. However, with the all year round Ft. Greene Greenmarket and it's devoted composters, there may be good reason to let Charlie continue his wheelbarrowing into the snowflakes.

Up to now, this completely volunteer run service has existed on a shoe-string. Mainly Charlie's, who until recently had been renting U-Haul trucks out of his own pocket to bring the half ton load down to Red Hook twice a month (David Selig, owner of RICE, has graciously offered his vegetable oil run van to make the trips; a stepping stone that emerges right as one feels they are about to be standing in the middle of a rushing stream).

That aside, there are still costs that emerge, such as garbage bags and, ultimately, the idea that sustaining this growing project may require other methods. Whether that is paying the farmers to set up transporting compost with them upstate or a site in the neighborhood that is specifically designated for composting. One is currently being considered. A weekly suggested donation of $1 ($2 for big household loads) has been enacted.

Right now, one may ask "How can I help?" Volunteer a Saturday to mind the donation table, turn compost or organize behind the scenes. Take the stickers off your fruit, too.

Ray Ray is a founding member of the Fort Greene Compost Project.

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