Monday, November 5, 2012

Master Composter, Part 1: What is this Program? Plus, Zoo Doo!

In April I did the Master Composter/Soil Builder program through Seattle Tilth. So... what exactly does that mean?!

Once a year in the spring, Seattle Tilth partners with the City of Seattle to provide a 4-week, 28-hour compost training to 30 city residents. Here's a description on Seattle Tilth's website:

"The Master Composter/Soil Builder volunteer program is a key partner in Seattle's waste reduction and recycling efforts. We help city residents to recycle food and yard waste at their homes, build healthy urban soils, and support thriving landscapes throughout the city."

Over those four weeks, we received training on topics such as food scrap composting, hot and cold yard waste composting, basic soil science, compost biology, urban stormwater management, and proper sorting of compostables/recyclables/garbage. We met twice a week: weeknight evening classroom sessions, and then hands-on Saturday classes at the Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands.

It was an enjoyable and incredibly educational month of training. On the first day of class, we introduced ourselves and had a chance to hear why other volunteers were doing the program. There was a woman who was concerned that faith organizations weren't encouraged enough to compost, and wanted to help start a compost system at her church. There were several people who described themselves as in "IT recovery", recently quitting tech jobs and feeling drawn to get outside and get their hands in the dirt. There were landscape architects and Master Gardeners who wanted to broaden their knowledge. There was one man who admitted to having "really stinky compost and just wanting to know what to do." We ranged in age from our 20's to 60's, with a wonderfully diverse set of backgrounds and life experiences.

(Turing our compost pile on a drizzly Saturday)
So after all that training, then what? We have one year to do any kind of public outreach or education related to compost inside the city limits. It could be helping apartments get compost bins, setting up compost at a local P-Patch, teaching elementary school students how to separate their lunchroom compostables, writing articles for a newsletter, or teaching a community class. For me, I enjoy talking with the public at info booths, so I've volunteered at the Fremont Fair and Seattle Tilth's Edible Plant Sales and Harvest Fair. I also helped at one of the summer's Zoo Tunes concerts at the Woodland Park Zoo, which is a great way to see big-name acts (Los Lobos, Ziggy Marley, Melissa Ethridge, Rosanne Cash) while doing community service.

Most recently I volunteered on a pick-up day for Zoo Doo. Zoo Doo is the composted waste from herbivore animals at the Woodland Park Zoo. The nitrogen-rich doo is mixed with the carbonous bedding (woodchips or straw) already in the animals' cages, and voila! After six months you have a safe and nutritious locally-made compost. The WPZ has been making Zoo Doo for over 25 years. TWENTY FIVE YEARS! I think they were way ahead of their time in thinking about minimizing their waste, and the bonus is that it saves them tens of thousands of dollars annually in disposal costs. Win-win!

So now twice a year, in March and September, Seattleites can enter a drawing to win the chance to buy this compost. You have your choice of a compost which is good for veggies and annual flower beds, or a more wood-chip heavy mulch for perennials, shrubs, and fruit trees. Currently, if you enter the drawing for Zoo Doo, you have about a 50% chance of getting it. Then you come to zoo at your assigned time slot, and load up whatever amount you signed up for, either into a pickup truck, buckets, or bags.

There were landscapers, casual gardeners, and elementary groups starting school gardens. It was a fun event to help with, and I really enjoyed seeing Seattle residents so enthusiastic about using this great and unusual compost.

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