Monday, March 31, 2008

My world: Community Nutrient Systems and More Snow!

Hi folks,

It's still snowing! Here's what Vermont looks like...

I just talked to my friend Al Bushey who's got a sugarbush over in Essex. The sap is slow coming this year!

Tomorrow is the 2th Annual Vermont Organics Recycling Summit. This is put on by the Composting Association of Vermont, a nonprofit organization. I'm on the board of directors and I'll be making the opening remarks tomorrow.

I'm going to describe a concept that I have been calling Community Nutrient Systems. It doesn't seem like outside-the-box thinking because it's all very intuitive. The idea is that we, like everything else on the planet, dwell within an ecosystem that we can help sustain by recycling the nutrients in our waste stream. Looking at the waste stream at all makes most people squeamish. Calling it "our" waste stream is foreign. And then conceptualizing it as a source of nutrients that can be retrieved and put back into the soil is quite a leap, however simple. Community Nutrient Systems is an idea that I developed while managing Intervale Compost Products in Burlington, Vermont. We took all kinds of organics from the community (except biosolids), unlike most facilities which usually specialize in farm manures or municipal leaf/yard trimmings. The compost we made helped drive a thriving local food system and a robust, thoughtful gardening and ecological landscaping community. Every community needs a community-based compost facility like that.

The keynote tomorrow will be given by Malcolm Beck, author of The Secret Life of Compost. Great reading. He's basically saying that Nature knows what it's doing and should be our model for how to care for the planet. In his own words: "If you work with nature, nature will reward your efforts". I had dinner with Malcolm and his wife, Delphine, the other night and heard lots of Malcolm's compost stories, which I loved. They're from a small town near San Antonio, Texas where Malcolm was a railroad man for 32 years and together they raised a family and ran a very successful organic farm and composting business for many years. Delphine made it all possible with her incredible common sense, natural business acumen, and highly evolved ability to multi-task (i.e., run the business, the home, the garden, and mother everyone at the same time). Malcolm has written insightfully and prolifically about composting and related topics such as composting funerals and water conservation. Tomorrow he'll tell us about how composting can help to slow climate change.

In good tilth!
the compost maven


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Back in Good Ole Fat-Cow Vermont!

Hi folks,

Just wrapping up my travelogue after a week in California. It's been quite the sensory whiplash! To illustrate the contrast I've experienced in a short period of time I drew a logo in the sand in Malibu (where I got a sunburn) on March 18th and a logo in the snow today, four days later, in Bolton (where I froze my fingers)...

After attending the Natural Products EXPO WEST I drove up the coast to Jalama State Park, just north of Santa Barbara. Here are some images from that trip.

It was hard to focus on driving... Jalama sunrise. Jalama Sunrise in motion.

...more images from Jalama

I camped right next to the beach for two nights. Driving back down the coast to L.A. I went through Malibu and stopped off at the big, beautiful public beach, all sparkling and blue...

...dolphins right off the shore.

And finally, it's back to work for this compost maven. Here's a picture of all the sales literature I get to sift through as a next step towards opening Waste Free Living for business...

Until next time,
the compost maven

Saturday, March 15, 2008


Well folks, I am a looooong way from Vermont! This post (sorry about how looong it is, by the way) comes from balmy, palmy Anaheim, CA where I'm attending the H-U-G-E Natural Products EXPO WEST at the colossal Anaheim Convention Center. I'm having a good time picking out some of those hand-picked good goods I promised you on my Waste Free Living website--and I've found some really awesome stuff for you!

This EXPO is mind-blowing in it's immensity and energy. So many people (and businesses) are really trying to do better in this world and that's what this show is all about. I got to see two of my heroes speak: Mollie Katzen and Michael Pollan. They were both great and I'll try to remember to tell you what they said on a future post. Practically every "natural" product you've ever seen is here. It's a great place to be if you're selling this stuff, which I am. However, my moral dilemma is this: have I gone too far down into the belly of the wasteful beast in order to come back out living waste free? I mean, to fly out here, with no recycling or composting around, and basically do bad in order to do good. One worries.

Just to give you an indication of where my four day journey has taken me I offer you a short photo mosaic from the green mountains to space mountain. From the northeast kingdom to the magic kindgom. From crusty snow, wood heat, and tasty brisket one day to Royal Palm trees and Disneyland the next!

...the late-wintry woods near my cute girlfriend's house, with deep, hard-crust snow and all aflutter with love-sick chickadees; my cute girlfriend, Alison Bechdel--ya kinda gotta watch out for her when she's a cleaning dervish (a dervish to watch out for?);

...tons and tons of birds of paradise in bloom!!!;

...the new half of the Anaheim Convention Center, quite a glorious edifacial visage to behold, actually, with it's expressive curves and shiny reaching; my new friend, Blake, doing yoga outside of his bus Friday morning--is this the capitalist 00s' answer to the Green Turtle of yore? God help us;

...a field of strawberries bearing fruit; Mollie Katzen!!! (sorry about the blurry photo);

...a brass manhole cover that's a map of the area--genius!; large ballon hanging from the ACC ceiling that says, Steel Libido--I'm not sure if this is supposed to be like "Nature's viagra" or wut?; sore feet on top of a big pile of newly harvested samples and sales literature (notice the pink nail polish, still extant from the Drag Ball in February); home of Minnie Mouse.

See? Don't you think this is a strange, albeit short trip? Since arriving in So' Cal' I have astutely noticed that it's kinda different here. For example, on the local news they recently featured a real estate agency that shows houses via helicopter because the traffic is so bad! The agent was quoted as saying, We want to show houses, not freeways. I can just see my friend Jackie Marino doing that in Vermont!! That would be so funny.

And then again, there are plenty of things that California and Vermont have in common. Here's a couple pictures of another local news story about a school garden currently on the school budget chopping block. This is a garden that's been around for 15 years and it looks totally successful and valued by the community...and yet they're talking about ending it.

Now wait a minute, why does that remind me of something from back home where a long-standing, do-good project is valued by the community but is on the small-mind, bureaucratic chopping block?? Hmmm, maybe it'll come to me later. Until then, here's another photo from my trip. It's a knight in shining armor in my hotel lobby. Oddly, it's full name is "Tomorrow", but people around here just call it Tom for short.

I leave you with an image of a banner held up outside the ACC urging us all to just do SOMETHING!

ciao for niao!
your roving compost maven


Saturday, March 8, 2008

Lesbian Kale Sauce and the 2008 Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera

Hi folks,

If you love kale like I love kale, which is quite a freaking lot, then you will love this recipe published in this week's Seven Days newspaper. It's at the end of an article about local Eat More Kale guy, Bo Muller-Moore. As printed in Seven Days:

Lesbian Kale Sauce

Submitted by Holly Rae Taylor

This originated with Anya Schwartz — who probably got it from some hippie cookbook — but I came up with the name, so I think that counts for something. I've never actually seen it written, so I'm kinda winging it here.

Mix together:
5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
5 tablespoons tamari
2 dashes sesame oil
3 tablespoons water
1 nub ginger, grated
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (optional)
1 tablespoon wasabi
½ cup toasted sesame seeds (toast the seeds with a pinch of sea salt; sprinkle some seeds in the sauce and the rest on the kale)

Adjust everything to taste

Two perfectly acceptable ways to enjoy Lesbian Kale Sauce:
1. Dip steaming hot steamed kale directly into sauce, one fork- or chopstickful at a time
2. Pour sauce over a big beautiful bowl of steamed kale, toss, and serve!


Oh yeah, and here's the 2008 Lamboghini Superwhatevva. It's just kinda weird that kale (much less Lesbian Kale Sauce!) and lamboghinis can coexist on the same planet, don't you think? And what do you do with one of these things, drive it to the farmer's market? Or to your weekly CSA pick up? I may never know for sure but I have a few ideas. Anyway, if you, dear reader, happen to own one of these beauties then please write in and illuminate us all about what kind of errands one can run with a 5-liter V-10 (523 horsepower, 376 pound-feet of torque); six-speed manual or six-speed automated manual transmission. Okay? Thanks.

bon appetit!
-the compost maven


Friday, March 7, 2008

Hairy Woodpecker, Stained Glass, and Sourdough Starter...the Photo Essay

...check out the tongue!

...what a magnificent tail!


This is what my living room window looked like this morning. Next time I'll record a video instead of taking still lifes with woodpecker... I wish like hell that I had a camera the day a Northern Flicker was at this suet feeder. The Northern Flicker is completely gorgeous and looked to be about 3 times as big as this Hairy. The spots on the Flicker looked like totally insane gold-fleckled aboriginal circles.

And just below this window here's what my sourdough starter looked like this morning. It would be so cool to have a magnified video of all the goings on inside that jar! Go to that link if you want to know how to make your own sourdough starter and, of course, sourdough bread. (please let us all know if you have a favorite bread recipe to share!)

-the compost maven


Monday, March 3, 2008

What's Compost Got To Do With It?

Hi folks,

I'm just back from Marlborough, MA where I attended the 8th Annual Massachusetts Organics Recycling Summit "The Changing Climate of Composting". Dr. Sally Brown gave a great keynote address on the subject. I'm taking a lot of liberties here, but just trying to sum it up I think she basically addressed 3 ways that compost and climate change intersect.

1. Putting organics (e.g., food scraps and everything else that can composted) into landfills creates methane, a very potent greenhouse gas (GHG). Therefore, keeping organics out of landfills is an important "avoidance" of GHG emissions. That wasn't news to the composters in the room but it was news that this avoidance effect can actually be calculated in tons of methane that is NOT put in the atmosphere! And furthermore, those calculations are how composters can potentially get money for carbon off-set credits (a very confusing matter which we'll definitely cover in a future post!).
2. Putting compost in the ground is a way to "sequester" carbon, i.e., keep it in the ground in the form of humus and OUT of the atmosphere where it would be in the form of a GHG. But this doesn't have nearly the impact on climate change as the "avoidance" thing listed above.
3. Compost is a soil amendment that increases the all-important soil organic matter (SOM, or OM) and feeds the all-important soil food web of soil critters. Compost is like magic. Sally didn't say that, but I get carried away with this subject, in case you haven't noticed. But her point was this: as the climate is changing and as populations are growing we are asking more and more of our soils. We ask them to absorb or withstand more extreme weather events like torrential downpours and to grow more food with less water. And now we also ask soils to NOT ONLY grow our food but to also grow a portion of our fuel in the form of corn for ethanol and canola for biodiesel. The only way to do any of that is to create healthy adding compost.

So, her main points were that A) keeping organics out of the landfill is a very significant way to reduce GHG emissions, and B) using compost as a soil amendment creates healthy soils, which will be increasingly important as we continue to make a bigger mess of things but also strive to create a sustainable world.

Okay, enough of all that. Let's look at some pretty pictures...

The top pictures shown above are (top) an unfurling fern from the latest issue of the Green Mountain Club's Long Trail News (isn't it amazing?!), and (bottom) a really big gorgeous fern that lives at the New York Botanical Garden, taken on my recent fabulous trip to NYC.

The pictures above are from my backcountry ski trip on Sunday. Check out those crazy snow formations!

Be well, do good work, keep in touch, eat, drink, be merry, and for the love of god, turn your compost piles!
the compost maven