In nature, composting occurs naturally. Vegetation falls to the ground and decays, becoming humus, which provides minerals and nutrients to feed plant life.
In society, however, our urban trappings often get in the way. We rake leaves off our lawns and shovel them into plastic bags, which we shove into garbage cans to be picked up by trash trucks and toted to garbage dumps. Our food waste regularly ends up in landfills, uselessly putrefying amidst an unholy host of inorganic junk. According to the City of Long Beach, “Green waste and food waste accounts for approximately 30% of the refuse generated by the average household.”
But there’s a better way. “Instead of ending up in the trash, green waste can easily be converted into a valuable soil amendment for your garden, resulting in more productive vegetables or flowers for your enjoyment,” the City says on its Composting 101 webpage. “[…] Setting up a composting system in your backyard speeds up this natural process. Organic materials like fruits, vegetables, and yard waste are collected and then decomposed with the help of oxygen, water and microorganisms.”
But what if you’re not able to maintain a compost project on your own? What if you simply don’t know what you’re doing? What if you don’t have use for the humus that will result?
Enter Long Beach Community Compost, a new initiative that will create a large composting site next door to Michelle Obama Neighborhood Library, as well as holding free weekly workshops to educate the public about composting.
The project is the brainchild of Mark Haprov, a member of the L.A. County Chapter of the UC Master Gardeners, caretakers of the library’s public garden. Upon his joining the team last year, he saw a golden opportunity in the form of a large vacant lot abutting library property.
A little research and legwork put him in touch with lot owners LAB (short for “Little American Business”) Holding, which “specializes in assisting the newborn retail entrepreneur in setting their roots in a nurturing environment” by “weav[ing] community, culture, commerce and consciousness into real estate innovation and place making.” According to Haprov, with no immediate plans for the lot, LAB Holding was amenable to allowing the allowing the project to go forward free of charge while the lot is unleased.
“We don’t know how long [the lot] is going to be available to us, so we’re being opportunistic right now,” says Haprov, who regards the endeavor as a pilot project. “But ideally, if we can get enough community members engaged and it catches on, we can start building on it and looking for a more permanent location.”
Prior to the project’s official launch, on-site composting was already well underway, with nine separate piles ranging from nascency to finished humus ready for use. Haprov reports that on January 20, the launch day, the group harvested 30 wheelbarrows of humus for the library’s garden beds, “then two days later I made two new compost piles with all the vegetation removed from the beds,” an example of the closed-loop model of vegetation use that is part of the composting ethos.
While residents are free to take compost for their own use any time and to contribute their food waste, yard clippings, etc., for compost creation, Long Beach Community Composting aims also to educate the public about the process, such as through free weekly workshop held Thursday mornings at 10 a.m.
“We’ll compost [your food waste] for you, but we actually want to encourage people to go a little bit beyond that and start getting familiar with where in their own community there is food waste that can be composted,” Haprov says. “It could be the coffee grounds at the coffee shop; it could be a brewery with their beer waste, have gobs of hops and barley; it could be schools and cafeterias, we’d like to teach them how to separate their food waste. Studies have shown that as much as 40% of our food supply is not digested. There’s so much waste. Part of [Long Beach Community Compost’s] effort is to bring awareness to this. And we want to help recycle some of that food waste that’s going into our landfills [so as to] minimize our footprint, take something that is a negative for us right now and turn it in to a positive by composting it and turning it into rich garden soil that will grow plants that are probably more nutritious than anything you can buy in the market.”
Long Beach Community Compost is an all-volunteer organization, and Haprov encourages as many people as possible will get involved in all aspects of the project, from contributing food waste and taking humus to attending workshops and working the piles. It’s basically the same model on which the public gardens are run. With no security, people are welcome to come pick produce and herbs anytime, as well as to attend the weekly classes, workshops, and events held by the UC Master Gardeners and to work the gardens themselves.
To get involved or obtain more information, visit Long Beach Community Compost on Facebook.