Soil Composting – Sustainable Means Local

Compost Bin

What does it take to build your own rich, organic soil and do it sustainably?

Many of you have heard of composting or may even have a bin out in the garden. But, is this system meeting your needs or do you find yourself making runs to the local garden store for a few bags of soil? Chances are that these bags came from many hundreds of miles away. A more sustainable system would be to make use of a local composting facility. That is, if there is one near you.

If you live in or near Sonoma, than consider yourself lucky. Sonoma Compost operates the Organic Recycling Program on behalf of the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency. They accept yard trimmings and vegetative food discards that are placed in curbside containers by local residents. Yard trimmings are also delivered directly to their site by landscapers, tree trimmers and the public.

Sonoma Compost’s program has already reduced 1,200,000 tons of yard and wood debris, then converted it into organic compost, mulch, recycled lumber, firewood and bio-fuel.Compost Bins

If you don’t have a composting facility in your area, here’s what can individuals do to produce sustainable, organic soil in their backyards or community gardens.

Backyard Compost Bins: Composting is nature’s own way of recycling and helps to keep the high volume of organic material out of landfills and turns it into a useful product. On-site composting reduces the cost of hauling materials and is generally exempted from solid waste regulations. Large scale facilities can handle more material and potentially produce a more consistent product.

Bokashi: This system relies on fermentation to decompose the matter rather than putrefaction, so no offensive odor is produced. In about 10 days, you can bury the nutrient-rich matter in the garden or empty the Bokashi kitchen compost bucket into your compost pile to help improve physical, chemical and biological environments in the soil.

Worm Bins: Vermiculture, or worm composting, allows you to compost your food waste rapidly, while producing high quality compost and fertilizing liquid. Best of all, it’s self-contained and nearly odorless.

The concept of a city run composting facility may not seem sustainable; especially if you consider that trucks burn fossil fuel to haul their loads through neighborhoods, causing air pollution, traffic and more wear and tear on the roads. Then, individuals make separate trips from the suburbs to the local composting center transporting soil back to their homes. The inefficiency of this system is obvious but, may be a means to an end.

I believe that the benefits to having a city-run composing program would outweigh the downside of having none at all. Once a program is up and running, people can utilize the service to enrich their backyard gardens, urban farmers would benefit greatly and there’s the benefit of a reduction in the volume of organic waste going to the landfill.

The following improvements could make this centralized composting system more sustainable:

1. Upgrade the trucks to bio-diesel or other renewables,
2. Encourage community involvement in home composting systems,
3. Run composting workshops,
4. Work with local entrepreneurs to start small, community-based composting stations in their neighborhoods.

To some, it might not seem that difficult to divert your organic waste to a compost bucket to your backyard, but many perceive it to be too time-consuming. There’s also a cultural barrier connected with the formation of soil: some perceive it to be dirty and smelly. Strangely though, many people also view composting as a socially-responsible effort rather than a common sense one, since they do not use the resulting soil in a garden.

With a little effort and a change in behavior, you could be producing many cubic feet of rich, organic compost in your very back yard. The qualitative benefits include a more abundant and productive garden for you and your family. This equates to better health and nutrition. Quantitatively, you are helping to divert from landfill, more than 25 percent your household’s waste and food scraps. In 1996, The Composting Council analyzed backyard composting programs and concluded that the average household in the study composted an average of 646 pounds per year, which amounted to more than 12 pounds every week.

Your family, your community and your tomatoes will thank you for it.


Urban Agriculture Becoming Integral to Urban Planning

Edmonton, Alberta, is about to integrate urban agriculture into their urban planning process. Yes, we’re talking Canada people.

And you thought that urban ag was just relegated to cities like Portland, Seattle, Detroit and Santa Cruz. Cheeeeeze!

The Edmonton city council is planning to grow urban agriculture from the ground up, due to a strong demand from its citizens. Areni Kellepan of the Sustainable Food Edmonton, says there is a desire from citizens to get into urban farming.

The natural landscape lends itself to food production because Edmonton contains large areas of rich agricultural lands within its civic boundaries.  Many organizations and initiatives related to food and agriculture are flourishing there. This is partly due to the influence of the University of Alberta and Alberta Research Council which has helped to create a culture that is pro-agriculture.

“The Way We Grow” – The Municipal Development Plan (MDP), is the City’s strategic growth and development plan.

The Way We Grow Goals:

  • Support the establishment of a food policy council
  • Work with the community to create a local food charter
  • Work with the region to develop a regional food policy council and food charter
  • Collaborate with communities, landowners and other organizations to identify potential areas and lands for urban agricultural activities
  • Establish guidelines for integrating urban agriculture into public and private spaces and developments

The city and its people have high aspirations. They hope to explore various forms of food production and urban agricultural activities. They include; market gardening, commercial farming, community gardens, allotment gardens, vertical gardens, backyard gardens, edible landscaping, roof top gardens, fish farming, animal raising (not including stock yards or feedlots) and bee keeping. Some of these activities already occur, others could be considered in the future.

Holistic Approach to Urban Planning

What’s different about Edmonton’s approach is that they aren’t doing what most cities do – trying to change the policies through countless amendments and ballot processes to a city policy that is out of balance with the needs of its people. The City of Edmonton is aligning its strategic planning processes to ensure an integrated and holistic approach toward city building over the next three decades. The purpose of the policy is to guide city planning and community design to support local agriculture and diversify the local economy. This is forward thinking at its best.

“There’s lots of farming communities, and farming families that have moved into the city that would love to have a place to grow food again,” says Kellepan. “I think [urban agriculture] is very important for the citizens of Edmonton. They’ve expressed the interest.”

Challenges of New Urbanism

Even though the people of Edmonton have a sincere interest in growing their own food, a challenge will be finding the time needed to take care of a garden in the city. “People in the city generally have [other] jobs that they have to go to,” he says. “Their time is more limited.”

For some it’s more an issue of not knowing how to grow a garden. Mayor Mandel emphasized the need to teach people, including himself. “I don’t know how to grow things. I wouldn’t mind going to someplace and someone showing me the best way to do this, and how to have the better kinds of crops that you can have in a small garden in your backyard,” says Mandel.

This situation, where the interest in self-reliance, DIY-culture and urban agriculture is high but, the people lack the knowledge is prevalent throughout the United States. Cities like Edmonton have listened to their citizens interest and are changing the way government works to aid this evolution.

This summer the city is looking to get feedback on the initiatives that will help to create a policy that works for everyone and raise awareness for urban agriculture. “If [people] are interested, through their awareness, then they will want to learn more about it and then they can make a decision on whether they want to create an opportunity in their backyard or how they want to get involved on a more broad base.”

I applaud Edmonton’s forward thinking and will be interested to see how an urban policy that embraces the citizen’s desire for local and sustainable practices will serve its people in the years to come.

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