The Be the Change Project’s Top Tips for Regenerative Living #4 Compost & Soil Building

Reader Contribution by Kyle Chandler-Isacksen
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Katy making a Biodynamic compost pile in our backyard with restaurant scraps, coffee, straw, and amendments.

This is the fourth installment of my series on tips for regenerative living. Our goals are to improve the environment around us while nurturing closer connections to home and community.  Each tip requires a little more energy and a little more chutzpah to make happen but, hey, it’s worth it.   Part 1.Part 2.Part 3.

Of all there is to do in our backyards (actual or figurative), I can’t think of any other process that is as blatantly regenerative as improving soil.  And, at the heart of soil building is composting.  As things are now, most of our country’s organic waste winds up in the landfill.  This is a no-no.  Once there it decomposes anaerobically giving off methane gas while creating a toxic leachate that can foul groundwater.  Instead, we can transmute our food and yard scraps into nourishing compost that gets nutrients to plants, holds and filters groundwater, creates habitat for critters, sequesters carbon in the soil…and so on.  It’s modern day alchemy – the transformation of lesser materials into veritable gold.  There’s serious science to composting, of course, but it’s also just not that hard to do.  Go online (motherearthnews.com, for example) or grab a book from the library to get the basics and get started.  Regenerative living takes some effort so set up a composting system that works with your life so it becomes part of what you do and who you are.

NOTE: You may be thinking that composting is not so hard, not so radical, and you’re right!  But how many of us don’t do it?  And, if you do, how can you do it with more impact on multiple levels (what’s called “stacking functions” in Permaculture parlance)?

We’ve been composting at our BTC homestead since day one and we were far from experts when we started.  However, we learned by doing and by getting advice from friends.  We got so into composting that we eventually launched two successful composting businesses:  the Reno Rot Riders (Reno’s first compost collection service) and Wormtopia (vermicomposting at a larger scale).  Both of them have helped increase composting awareness in town, developed composting advocates, and actually composted tons and tons of material that have improved soils and grown plants all around Reno. 

So, in addition to composting for yourself or signing up with a compost collection service here’s some bigger actions to take if your city’s behind the times and needs some role models like you:

Involve your friends and neighbors.  If you have the space, or someone in your ‘hood does, make a drop-off spot to get more people and bigger piles in action.  Leaves, food, grass clippings…This may not be legal but do it anyway and be sure to keep it clean and perty.   

“What are you in for?”

“Composting.”

And they all moved away from me on the bench there, with the hairy eyeball (“Alice’s Restaurant” lyrics, mostly)

Host several green waste days to collect large quantities of organic matter.  Pick a day, tell your friends and neighbors, get a dumpster dropped off, charge a little fee, and fill it with green waste (leaves and grass clippings) to be brought to a nearby composter.  Look to local orgs for allies.

Start a collection business.  From small to large there are successful examples out there   (check out the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Composting site). There are opportunities with restaurants or cafes (trade for meals or espressos), events (both public and private), residential (a kid on a bike in your ‘hood). 

Teach.  Once you know what you’re doing, mainly, offer some classes to share the knowledge.

Importantly, measure your success by both how much you collect & compost and by the connections that result from your efforts. That is regenerative living on multiple levels.


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