Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Real Food, Real Wastes.

If you eat a lot of processed, pre-packaged foods, not only do you feel crappy, but with the packaging, and the production processes, you pretty much are left feeling like you raped the Earth (or at least, I am). But if you make a lot of whole, real foods from scratch, you end up with a lot of totally different kinds of waste, and again, at least where I currently live, you're left feeling like you raped the Earth. 

I've always lived in a town with a municipal compost program in place. At the very least since I was old enough to be concerned, and conscious of the problems. It just goes into the nifty little bin they provide, and I mean everything, butter, cheese, meats, all kinds of food waste, gets dumped into a bigger bin when it's full, and carted off on garbage day. Then once or twice a summer, they dump a big pile of black gold in the centre of town during the farmers market, and you show up with buckets, barrows or pick up trucks to cart off what you need or want for your garden. Beautiful. 

No such program exists here. In fact, this town doesn't even recycle. All waste is garbage waste, it goes in a black bag at the curb and gets carted off to goodness knows where, to sit and putrefy, and stink in its little black prison for lengths of time unknown. Even things that would naturally decompose can't do so trapped in the little black wrappers of doom. This bothers me.

Back in the spring, I acquired a double handful of red wrigglers, and set them up in a bin full of paper shreddings with a bowl full of kitchen scraps and thought gee whiz isn't this something! I'm keeping this paper, AND this food waste out of the landfill. I was quite pleased with myself, and I suppose in the end, any little bit makes a difference. The problem is the scale. At the rate my worms consume things, I was only able to put one small bowl (pictured above) of kitchen waste in each week. And I was warned not to add anything greasy, or any meat or dairy products. If you're the kind of person with an active lifestyle, who eats out a lot, who's main contributions to the compost pile are coffee grinds and paper towels, this might work out for you. It wasn't a scale that was compatible with our volume of kitchen waste. Each week, I could easily fill that bowl at least thrice with vegetable stems, ends and peelings, fruit stems, seeds, cores and skins, and the occasional piece of produce that ripens too fast or we open to find rotten on the inside. We try to avoid this, but where we live, the moment food hits the back room of our grocery store, it's already, at the very least, 5 days from harvest. Things like bananas are picked green to give them a longer shelf life, potatoes, carrots, squash and apples store pretty well, but tomatoes, berries, peaches, spinach and some other more delicate produce just don't keep very long. So we have some spoilage. Add to this a filter full of coffee grounds at least once a day (it's our vice, don't judge), some tea bags, and soft paper products (paper towels, facial tissues... I personally think in most cases a dish cloth, tea towel or hanky can serve, but hubby likes the paper towel), and you're looking at a significant amount of food waste. Not to mention the things our worms just can't handle. What about that paper towel I used to grease my baking dish? How about bones, and meat? what about the mouldy bits that form sometimes on our cheese and need to be trimmed away? I'm a little unclear about bread. We're not great at eating up the crusty ends, especially if they're sliced too thinly, so can those go to the worms or not?

I hoped that as my little colony got established it would grow and allow for greater volumes of foods to be stashed away in there, but this hasn't seemed to be the case. They aren't eating appreciably more than they were back in the spring. I would need three or four colonies that size, just to handle the waste from my own kitchen. I just don't have that kind of indoor space! 

I've been looking at composting, but everyone I've talked to discourages it due to the problems with nuisance bears in the area. Now, these bears, for a very brief period in spring and fall (when they're thin and hungry, and when they're trying to avoid being thin and hungry next year) will pillage the garbage bins with great delight. Now lets not forget, everything goes into these garbages. They reek to high heaven, and if I can smell it at the curb from my front door, you can bet the bears can smell it for miles around. I haven't heard of there being problems with bears preying upon bird feeders, or getting into storage sheds for pet food, or really being destructive towards anything except the smelly, ripe, garbage boxes. 

Surely, if I make sure to pad all food wastes with ample carbonaceous material (dead grass, dead leaves, paper, cardboard, sawdust, straw etc) and bury them properly into the pile, the stink shouldn't be that attractive? Especially if I'm still not adding the meats and animal products that they would find especially attractive? What if I refrained from adding the attractive food (like fruit for example) during the lean times, and stuck to just junk mail, paper towel and coffee grounds while the bears are prowling and hungry? Surely they wouldn't be interested in the pile then? We're putting a fire pit in the back yard. Wouldn't adding the wood ash help keep the smell down too? I could release my worms into said compost pile, letting them help break things down faster, and add all kinds of beneficial micronutrients to the compost coming back out. Because lets face it, in my new one bedroom tiny home, I don't have room for even the current worm colony inside of the building, and they won't survive a Moosonee winter in a rubbermaid tote. 

It's all food for thought I suppose, but like farmers who have "manure problems" (hello!? This is garden gold! The key to sustainable land usage! Not a problem!), I can't help but feel like I'm squandering resources, and creating bigger problems every time I put my food wastes out in the trash. I'll keep doing my research, but I can't help but think that a few laying hens would make short work of nearly all the kitchen wastes I could throw at them. I suppose then I'd have bigger problems with keeping predators from eating my chickens!

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