Some of what we do best in our lives and work through our Be the Change Project is putting ideas into action. I love to find solutions that address many problems or challenges at once. In permaculture parlance we call this “stacking functions.” Bike-powered compost collection is one such beautiful solution.

Climate Action

In early 2015 my wife, Katy, and I were reading the The Good Food Revolution by farmer and food activist Will Allen. This book came on the heels of our reading Naomi Klein’s troubling and stirring book about climate change This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate.

Kyle on his rounds

In his book, Allen chronicles the start and evolution of his urban farming operation in Milwaukee. It is an inspiring story which, for us, showed further the intersectionality of climate, race, and economic injustice. At one point, Allen says that he measures the likely success of the farming projects he visits by seeing how much attention they pay to soil building. And throughout the book he talks about the importance of compost and describes how his operation makes huge mounds of the black gold from supermarket waste, woodchips, and other organic matter, much of it from the urban core.

This got us reflecting about how we’ve been developing soil or, more specifically, how little we’d been doing to build soil. Until recently, our composting efforts had been sporadic and largely dependent on whether or not manure showed up from friends’ sources. To boot, we live in a desert on a property with loads of clay and overall poor soil.

Following The Good Food Revolution, I read two books about soil: The Soil Will Save Us and Cows Save the Planet, which are both quite good and quite similar. Each describes the soil carbon cycle, the benefits of rotational grazing and holistic management practices (via Allan Savory), the impact of soil loss over the centuries and its significant contribution to the climate crisis (perhaps 40% or more of CO2 emissions are the result of the degradation of the soils, particularly in the last century but going back thousands of years!), and, the magic of compost. This perfect storm of books covering climate change, soil and compost, and action (along with our work with the city of Reno and local organizations on climate change) got me hooked on making compost really happen in a creative way in Reno.

Existing Bike-Powered Composting Operations

I had learned about two bike-powered compost operations while living in Missouri at the Possibility Alliance. The student-run Rot Riders of Truman State University in Northeast Missouri and the Pedal People of Northampton, Massachusetts. The Pedal People have been doing bike-powered waste, recycling, and compost pick up the past 16 years – the longest running program we’ve come across. And, they’re a worker’s cooperative.

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