As with its backyard counterpart, community composting follows the time-honored commandment Thou Shalt Be a Good Neighbor. Although some of us struggle to remember that a heap of rotting kitchen garbage and leaves isn’t inherently beautiful to most people, we do try to take seriously the aesthetic and olfactory concerns of our neighbors. And while our primary beneficiaries are generally microorganisms, earthworms, and soil structural elements, we also try to keep in mind our human environs, what I’m hearing called “meat space” from time to time. To this end, we not only turn compost at our sites. We pull weeds, we pick up trash, we spread wood chips. We endeavor to do more good than harm.
Spring is a time of renewal, and the Kompost Kids have been busy in the last few weeks, sprucing up our sites, recovering from the ravages of winter, and improving our, dare we say, curb appeal. At our main River West site at Auer and Gordon, we responded to a request from our Quaker hosts to reverse the direction of our large compost system so that it terminated in a resting pen near the street, allowing better public access and minimizing disruption to the open bucolic spaces deeper in the property. This was and is a major undertaking, as shifting 10 yards of partially decomposed material means first moving it to the middle of our cycle of bins, then gradually pushing it back in the new direction. But a tidy new resting area facilitates the flow, and by month’s end, our reversal will be complete. The Friends are very happy.
At our Demonstration Site in Bay View, with the help of some awesome young volunteers from South Division High School and Keep Greater Milwaukee Beautiful, we rebuilt a winter-felled fence, tightened and covered our growing compost windrow, and turned over a few months’ worth of compost.
Not all stories have happy endings, however. An inactive garden at the Scooter Foundation at Buffum and Wright coupled with accumulating neighbor concerns forced us to remove our compost system there last weekend and pull up stakes for good on that empty city-owned lot in River West.
Our garden partnerships are crucial to our viability as they signal to the broader community the productivity of the site, the relative benefits over a weedy, trash-strewn abandoned lot, and the positive direction of our sustainability mission. But not everyone, alas, understands that dirt doesn’t get made in the neat, sealed plastic bags you find at Home Depot. Manufacturing local dirt has some mess associated with it, admittedly, and the Kompost Kids are taking a risk on community support by siting our compost systems in residential neighborhoods. When that support dries up, we have to seek other pastures.
Ours is a niche market in curb appeal, but we are patient revolutionaries. In the meantime, we will keep trying to maintain happy neighbors and the healthy soils that undergird all life, no matter how urban.