Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Beginning of Food

Neighbors might have thought it strange, a man wheeling bags of leaves and grass clippings up the sidewalk. But in my travels yesterday, I noticed a landscaping crew cleaning the area around a huge apartment complex down the street.

There were at least six workers busy mowing grass and blowing leaves and the sight of it I stopped me in my tracks: compost.

I suppose the workers thought I was crazy, pointing, waving my arms, jabbering away in fractured Spanish--indicating however I could that I wanted their big bags of lawn refuse. They looked at me like I was daft, then looked at each other as if to say, What is this guy talking about? But we soon had an arrangement: they would continue bagging the grass and leaves while I ran up the street and fetched my hand truck.

In fact, the captain of the crew spoke enough English that we could compare notes on composting. He agreed that I had a good mix of materials and that by next year (or maybe the year after, he seemed to think) I'd have some great soil amendment. "All organic," he said, nodding.

The trees here still haven't shed all their leaves and we have great colors despite months of drought. Normally I would be driving around the neighborhood in the coming weeks, snatching the leaves people gather and bag from their lawns and place at the curb for pickup by city crews. Brown leaves, a great supply of carbon for the compost pile, are difficult to come by in the spring and summer if you haven't saved a stash. The grass clippings, or green material, contain the nitrogen that stokes the composting process.

All of this may seem off the topic of food. Yet it is essential to the food we eat. Trees draw nutrients from the ground, which find their way into the leaves, which then fall back to the earth. Nitrogen is essential food for vegetable plants. Compost feeds the soil with organic matter, supporting an entire ecosystem of small creatures who transport nutrients to my carrots and beets and lettuces and tomatoes and make the soil a living, hospitable environment for things to grow. In the end, those very same nutrients find their way into our bellies as well.

I made several trips back and forth with my bags of loot. The landscaping crew, once they understood what I was doing, pitched in to help. Normally they use a big vacuum to blow the leaves into the back of their truck. But this time they gathered the leaves and stuffed them into more bags so I could wheel them home.

Every bit of compost I make myself means compost I don't have to buy, compost that doesn't have to be trucked into the city from somewhere else. It also means leaves and grass clippings that don't have to be trucked out of the city in the back of a landscaper's truck and dumped who-knows-where. We love the idea of nature recycling itself right here in the neighborhood and feeding us in the process.

4 comments:

Janet said...

I laugh. As someone who gets far more leaves than I can compost, it always irked me when I'd bag the excess up and then someone would steal them from the alley. They're welcome to the leaves, but where were they when I was bagging them?!

Divina said...

Thank you for inspiring city dwellers!

We can all do a little to help.
mille Grazie

Pattie said...

Ed: I identified with your leaf adventure! We slammed on my brakes the otehr day and descended upon my neighbor, who was raking leaves. We ended up helping him rake them onto a big tarp and carried them back to our garden. Because of the drought here, the leaves are so, so dry that they crumble so easily and we put them directly on our beds to decompose.

When I thnaked him profusely for the leaves, my neighbor said, "You're very easy to please, Pattie." :)

Ed Bruske said...

Janet, I guess I'm one of thoe neredowells who's never around when there's raking and bagging to be done. On the other hand, nobody volunteers to help me with my composting, so I guess it works out in the end.

Divina, city dwellers have their part to play, too. Composting is for everyone.

Pattie, you seem to have found the common ground--cleaning up the leaves and composting, too. Good for you. If only we could compost all the leaves, I think Mother Nature would be happy...