When I started composting in 5-gallon buckets a year ago, I never could have imagined just how much composting could bring to my life. I'm sure you are all thinking to yourselves, "Really? How much can you possibly benefit from composting?"
Besides the obvious benefit to the environment from reducing the amount of waste that goes into landfills and providing your garden with "black gold", what if I told you that composting has created and strengthened my relationships with my neighbors? What if I told you that it provides me with a weekly workout? What if I told you that I can barter with it? Are you listening now?
We moved into our house a little under a year ago. After 6 months, I had met a couple of our neighbors, but there were still a few others I didn't know very well. What I did know was that one of them had just gotten a horse. Having an organic garden, I couldn't help myself from thinking how awesome it would be if I could compost horse manure to use for amending my garden beds.
On a random encounter with this neighbor, I inquired what they were doing with their horse manure. She indicated they were actually bagging it in small bags for the trash. I offered that they could dispose of it directly in my compost bin (which is very accessible to them), and they have been making weekly "deposits" ever since!
I make sure to take them some fresh produce from the garden every now and then (like when I was overrun with yellow squash). It's a win-win situation and now we are way more comfortable talking to each other. She even brought the horse over into our backyard once for the kids to check out and pet!
Would you like to get to know your neighbors better? Maybe they don't have a horse, but perhaps they keep chickens. Or maybe they have grass clippings or leaves to dispose of. If your compost bin is convenient for them, maybe they even want to be more sustainable and toss their kitchen scraps in there without having to build their own compost bin. You never know, but it can be a way to strike up a conversation.
I'm not sure if this is technically "barter," but I found another interesting mutual benefit between myself and another neighbor. Every week, when I turn my compost pile (my Saturday morning homesteading workout!), I pick out tons of grubs. I do not want the grubs in my compost, because if they make it into my garden beds, I'll have rodents and birds digging through the beds destroying my young plants. I had been tossing these grubs out onto the dirt in my backyard and hoping for birds to get them.
Recently, I discovered through the research I have been doing on having backyard chickens that grubs are great snacks for chickens! While I don't have chickens yet, one neighbor has both chickens and ducks. So the kids and I went over and offered to feed their chickens and ducks every week with the grubs that I pick out of the compost. They told us to go ahead and then to also pick out and keep any of the eggs we find in the coop.
Again, WIN-WIN! Another way you can barter with your compost is to offer some compost to neighbors who garden in exchange for some tasty fruits or vegetables that you may not be growing yourself.
I titled this article "Cooperative Composting" because I want to highlight the community building and benefiting that occurs from sustainable homesteading activities. People can get so carried away in the "self-sufficiency" aspect of homesteading that they fail to realize how amazing and great it can be to come together as a community and support each other.
From my cooperative composting examples above to garden swaps and also just supporting each other through difficult times, strong communities are essential for people to thrive. I look forward to many more shared experiences with my physical neighbors as well as my online community.
Rachel Stutts began yearning for a simpler lifestyle more rooted in family and community after having two children and continuing in the corporate rat race. Following conversations with her husband over drinks one date-night, they agreed to search for a new property where they now work toward some serious gardening and "lite homesteading" pursuits. Connect with Rachel at her Amber Burst blog. Read all of Rachel's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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