On composting as a communal actTo me, composting is the easiest way to be sustainable. If you drop off food scraps at a compost site, you can actually see them turn into the finished product used to grow more food. Every other form of recycling, you have to follow it from transfer station to transfer station to transfer station. I want to see the whole process, and I want to create that resource myself. That’s why I chose composting. I plan to train and hire young adults with Green City Force, place them in green jobs, and create something like a workers’ cooperative where they can be owners in the future. By providing infrastructure and education to underserved communities, we can give them the power to take over those systems and create their own economic sustainability by generating programs that can harbor jobs and careers. That’s basically what Compost Power is about. I chose “Compost Power” as the name because I’m using compost to bring power back to the community.
On compost systems that best meet community needsIf a community wants a specific system, I’m absolutely gonna make it happen for them. It isn’t about what I want or what I think the best system for that space would be. It’s working with people to figure out what they want. As long as we’re composting, I feel like it works. As I’m building these sites, I’m creating videos so the public can see how it’s done: What issues come with building a site? How do you compost? How do you separate organics in your household? I’m always considering these things as I build sites, asking, “What can any New Yorker benefit from?”
On building large-scale support around sustainability initiativesIt’s important to educate the community about the benefits of composting before you start talking about launching a program. Just having a space where people can learn about different forms of sustainability is how we get engagement from the residents. That’s when they say, “Hey, can we build a farm? Can we build a compost site?” The key to making it easy is to ask for input from residents, get them involved. Once you’re organized, you can start talking to the city council and see if your city offers participatory budgeting. Once you have the power of the community behind you, you can build anything. As long as the people are behind me, I haven’t had an issue building a site. You just have to show them that that power is there — that they have that power.
On the importance of grassroots compositing initiativesBefore COVID, the Department of Sanitation was basically the sole funder for composting in New York City, with the exception of BK Rot and a couple of other grassroots organizations. When the department lost funding, all of those sites lost funding as well. Composting in New York was almost completely halted. My idea is to build compost sites that aren’t contingent upon city funding. I’m using the grant to do this for neighborhoods that otherwise can’t afford their own composting systems. I’m giving them a free composting system so that if the city cuts funding, we have a diverse network of community compost sites that can hold that extra weight.
On convincing people that composting is coolThe first thing you have to do is remove the myths. A lot of people think that compost smells like trash, that it brings rats, that it’s disgusting. You have to prove to them that isn’t true if you do composting the right way. We haven’t had a rat problem at our Red Hook compost site, and we’ve been here since 2011. We haven’t had any odors. Walk down that block, and you wouldn’t even know it’s a compost site. Once that compost is steaming and there are worms, you start to get interest from people. They ask, “Hey, did you light that on fire?” and “Why is that hot?” That “nature” part of composting really intrigues the community. The kids love playing with the worms. The adults are mesmerized by the steam. That’s the key — expose people to composting and give them a taste of it. That right there would just make it seem so cool. For underserved youth to see somebody like me teaching them about composting and telling them, “Yeah, you know, I worked at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for five years, and I started my own company” — that really piques their interest. They see there is potential to make something out of this. Telling people my story helps me sell it.
This story was originally published by Grist with the headline His vision for community buy-in on composting: Make it ‘cool’ on Feb 23, 2021.