The Big Salad

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If you’re like me, your composting experience makes you proud, but you don’t know much about it: You save up your cantaloupe rinds and carrot greens all week and toss em in the bin at the farm. Then something happens and something else happens and then it’s good and you are a good person.

Turns out, there’s more to it.  I mean, you’re a good person and all, me too, but we could stand to know more about how and why. You could always learn a lot here:

Or you could just make a salad.

Once every month or so, NYC Greenmarkets stops by the Farm on a Sunday morning to drop off 3 to 4 tons of household organic material collected at the previous day’s Greenmarkets all over the city.  It all gets mixed up with leaves and wood chips, shovel and pitchfork style, like an enormous disgusting salad. Just like when you and I drop off our cantaloupe and mix it in the bin, but on a massive, super heavy, super wet, splattertastic level.  Dumpster juice is literally running out of the bed of the truck when it pulls up.

I was there last Sunday with a team of a dozen or so other volunteers when that leaky truck came around. Working together under the direction of EcoScientist/Compost MasterChef David Buckel, we worked hard, had a lot of laughs, and learned a lot. We learned about layering the nitrogen-based material (cantaloupe etc) with carbon-based material (leaves and wood chips etc), to jumpstart the chemical processes involved in decomposition. We learned about mixing up all that layered stuff for maximum contact of all the different kinds of material, for an accelerated but uniform rate of decomposition.  We learned about windrows while we made one (they’re the giant, peaked piles of earth lined up on the west end of the farm, and they’re each at a different phase of their decomposition, a process that takes around 4 months and a lot of work). Ours was 37 feet long, containing 20 cubic yards of compost.

That’s a LOT – but it’s just a fraction of what’s made out of the 160 tons of organic waste captured and converted by David and the compost program at the Farm, diverted from the landfill and creating a high quality soil amendment to help the Farm grow more healthful food.

(full disclosure: David wrote that last sentence because he is much, much smarter than me)

My personal highlight: about an hour into our unpacking of the truck, we opened a bag that turned out to be someone’s recycling (must’ve brought the wrong bag to the Greenmarket!). The entire work crew – up to our knees in decomposing vegetable matter and mud, much of which we’d splattered on each other with our pitchforks – reacted to the sudden appearance of empty water bottles and soda cans as if these were the revolting and offensive items. We’d totally psychologically normalized the yucky  nastiness, and it was glorious. Also we found someone’s ponytail. There was much speculation on how it ended up in our pile (winning theory: driven mad by the heatwave, someone did something they might regret). Importantly, awesomely, human hair is a nitrogen-based organic, so it stayed in the pile!

Here’s the thing: doing it just once has made me a zealot.  So here I am to say loud and clear: You need to get in on making a Big Salad. It’s just too gloriously disgusting and rewarding and educational and impactful to miss out on. Keep dropping off your cantaloupe and carrot greens! Do that all the time and always. But the Big Salad is bucket list stuff: once in a while or at very least once in your lifetime, you really need a piece of this action. Why not Sunday August 19th?  Be there at noon! The truck will be there, and so will David, and so will I.

John Foley-Murphy