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6 Green Failure: Whatâ€™s Wrong with Environmental Education?
Marine conservationist Charles Saylan believes the U.S. educational system is failing to create responsible citizens who consider themselves stewards of the environment. To do that, he says in a Yale Environment 360 interview, educators need to go beyond rhetoric and make environmental values a central part of a public education.
16 A Map of Milwaukee County Parks
The Milwaukee County Parks System has so much to offer, so here is a small section of parks and beaches near the lake to peak some interest in exploring Milwaukee.
22 The Reluctant Composter
Starting up a compost in the city can be hard because of lack of space, but Elissa Gootman gives her honest experience in putting one together. Starting off isnâ€™t easy, but once the ball gets rolling it can become an unexpectedly worthwhile endevour.
Growing Power in an Urban Farming Desert 1 Will Allen went from basketball player to urban farming guru. Tipped farming on its head, redfined sustainability, and made it cool to grow your own food.
Sweet water organics 8 Sweet Water Organics is an urban farm located in Bayview and housed in an old crane factory. It has seen a lot of growth in the past few years, but has a lot of growing up to do if it wants to keep itself afloat.
rise of the urban ecology center 18 “Save the park.” That was the single, not-so-simple goal of a very loosely organized group of concerned residents of Riverside Park in the early 1990s. Little did they know that two decades later, a trio of nationally recognized ecology education centers would grow out of their efforts.
There are many things that are overlooked on a daily basis, whether because they are quiet, because they do not demand attention, or because they are not thought to be important. But it’s usually the overlooked that are the ones holding everything together. Sometimes the quiet ones have the most to say. When I was around four years old and my sister was about two I used to speak for her all the time. She was always the quiet type, so I took it upon myself to both give her a voice and allow myself to talk for two people because I loved talking. I would interpret what my sister wanted to say when she was asked a question or I thought she wanted to speak. But eventually my family started to shut me down when I tried to talk for my sister, saying “we didn’t ask you, we asked Emma.” And this to me was an affront on the self-proclaimed favor I was doing my sister. If she wasn’t able to speak, I would speak for her. The problem was that she was able to speak but chose not to, I just couldn’t understand why anyone would choose not to speak. Our environment needs someone to speak for it, because unlike my sister it cannot speak for itself. It is trying to reach out to us and communicate what it wants us to hear. A call for help to show people the path we have chosen to walk down and the impacts of that choice. The unfortunate part of trying to reform ourselves to fix the mistakes we’ve made in the past is that we have hundreds of years of repitition built into those mistakes. We cannot change overnight, but we have to start sometime, so why not begin now? Environmental education is the first step to giving a much needed voice to our environment so that those that come after us might be able to enjoy the same things that we do. We must start now, before we get past the tipping point. They say it’s never too late to start, and in most cases they would be correct. However in this case, there is a time when it will be too late to start and that time is fast approaching. -Aaron Czarnecki
Growing Power in an Urban Farming Desert by roger bybee Illustrations by Ruth Diaz
Will Allen went from basketball player to urban farming guru. Tipped farming on its head, redfined sustainability, and made it cool to grow your own food.
At the northern
outskirts of Milwaukee, in a neighborhood of boxy post-WWII homes near the sprawling Park Lawn housing project, stand 14 greenhouses arrayed on two acres of land. This is Growing Power, the only land within the Milwaukee city limits zoned as farmland. Founded by MacArthur Foundation “genius” fellow Will Allen, Growing Power is an active farm producing tons of food each year, a food distribution hub, and a training center. It’s also the home base for an expanding network of similar community food centers, including a Chicago branch run by Allen’s daughter, Erika. Growing Power is in what Allen calls a “food desert,” a part of the city devoid of full service grocery stores but lined with fast food joints, liquor stores, and convenience stores selling mostly soda and sweets. Growing Power is an oasis in that desert.
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Allen’s parents were sharecroppers in South Carolina until they bought the small farm in Rockville, Maryland, where Allen grew up. “My parents were the biggest influence on my life,” says Allen. “We didn’t have a TV and we relied on a wood stove, but we were known as the ‘food family’ because we had so much food. We could feed 30 people for supper.” He was a high school All-American in basketball, played for the University of Miami, and played pro ball with the American Basketball Association in Europe. At a towering 6 feet 7 inches, with Schwarzenegger-size biceps, and chiseled features, Allen looks ready to step back onto the court. After stints as an executive for Kentucky Fried Chicken and Proctor and Gamble, he returned to his family roots. “I never wanted a career in the corporate world, but I wanted to be able to afford a good education for my kids,” he explains. “At the right time, the kids were in college and the opportunity to buy the farm
and start Growing Power came up,” Allen remembers. “From a spiritual standpoint, it worked out right; it was a natural thing, something I wanted to do.” Growing Food Since 1993, Allen has focused on developing Growing Power’s urban agriculture project, which grows vegetables and fruit in its greenhouses, raises goats, ducks, bees, turkeys, and—in an aquaponics system designed by Allen—tilapia and Great Lakes Perch—altogether, 159 varieties of food. Growing Power also has a 40acre rural farm in Merton, 45 minutes outside Milwaukee, with five acres devoted to intensive vegetable growing and the balance used for sustainably grown hays, grasses, and legumes which provide food for the urban farm’s livestock. Allen has taken the knowledge he gained growing up on the farm and supplemented it with the latest in sustainable techniques and his own experimentation. Growing Power composts more than 6 million pounds of food waste a year, including the farm’s own waste, material from local food distributors, spent grain from a local brewery, and the grounds from a local coffee shop. Allen counts as part of his livestock the red wiggler worms that turn that waste into “Milwaukee Black Gold” worm castings. Allen seems to take a particular delight in thrusting his steamshovelsized hands into a rich mixture of soil and worms in Growing Power’s greenhouses. “You can’t grow anything without good soil,”
Growing Power composts more than 6 million pounds of food waste a year. he preaches to a group touring the project. Allen designed an aquaponics system, built for just $3,000, a fraction of the $50,000 cost of a commerciallybuilt system. In addition to tilapia, a common fish in aquaculture, Allen also grows yellow perch, a fish once a staple of the Milwaukee diet. Pollution and overfishing killed the Lake Michigan perch fishery; Growing Power will soon make this local favorite available again. The fish are raised in 10,000 gallon tanks where 10,000 fingerlings grow to market size in as little as nine months. But the fish are only one product of Allen’s aquaponics system. The water from the fish tanks flows into a gravel bed, where the waste breaks down to produce nitrogen in a form plants can use. The gravel bed supports a crop of watercress, which further filters the water. The nutrientrich water is then pumped to overhead beds to feed crops of tomatoes and salad greens. The plants extract the nutrients while the worms in the soil consume bacteria from the water, which emerges virtually pristine and flows back into the fish tanks. This vertical growing system multiplies the productivity of the farm’s limited space. “Growing Power is probably the leading urban agricultural project in the United States,” says Jerry Kaufman, a professor emeritus in urban and regional planning at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “Growing Power is not just talking about what needs to be changed, it’s accomplishing it.” Growing Community Simply growing that much food in a small space is a remarkable achievement. But it’s only the start of Growing Power’s mission. “Lowquality food is resulting in diabetes, obesity, and sickness from processed food,” Allen maintains. “Poor people are not educated about nutrition and don’t have access to stores that sell nutritious food, and they wind up with diabetes and heart disease.” Growing healthy food is part of a larger transformational project that will create a more just society, as Allen sees it. He also works on the Growing Food and Justice Initiative, a national network of about 500 people that fights what he calls “food racism,” the structural denial of wholesome food to poor AfricanAmerican and Latino neighborhoods. “One of our four strategic goals is to dismantle racism in the food system. Just as there is redlining in lending, there is redlining by grocery stores, denying access to people of color by staying out of minority communities.” The store at Growing Power’s Milwaukee farm is the only place for miles around that carries fresh produce, freerange eggs, grassfed beef, and
homegrown honey. Even in winter, customers find the handmade shelves and aging coolers stocked with fresh picked salad greens. Growing Power codirector Karen Parker, who has worked alongside Allen since the project started, says, MacArthur genius Will Allen and daughter Erika, photographed in January in the aquaponic Wgreeenhouse of the Milwaukee Growing Power facility, minutes before an international training conference began. The sprouts in the foreground lie above a fourfoot deep, waterfilled trench holding 10,000 tilapia and yellow perch. “It’s a wonderful thing to change people’s lives through changing what they’re eating.” Parker believes her parents would have lived much longer with a healthier diet. She takes a deep pride in providing fresh, healthy food. “Last summer during the salmonella problem with tomatoes, I was able to tell customers, ‘You don’t have to worry. These tomatoes were grown right here.’ I found myself selling out of tomatoes.” Growing Power supplements its own products with food from the Rainbow Farming Cooperative, which Allen started at the same time as Growing Power. The cooperative is made up of about 300 family farms in Wisconsin, Michigan, Northern Illinois, and the South. The southern farmers, who are primarily African- Americans, make it possible to offer fresh fruits and vegetables yearround. The produce goes into Growing Power’s popular Farmto City Market Baskets. A week’s worth of 1215 varieties of produce costs $16. A $9 “Junior/Senior” basket, with smaller quantities of the same produce, is also available. Each Friday, Growing Power delivers 275–350 Market Baskets of food to more than 20 agencies, community centers, and other sites around Milwaukee for distribution. Bernita Samson, a retiree in her 60s with eight grandchildren, picked up the Market Basket habit from her brother and late mother. “I get the biggest kick out of what I get
This is the Place
in my bag each week,” she says. “At Sunday dinners my grandkids say, ‘Ooh, Grandma this is good!’ They really like what they call the ‘smashed potatoes.” For Samson, Growing Power provides not only healthy food but also a vital source of community. “Sometimes it’s so crowded at the [Growing Power] store on Saturdays you can’t even get up in there. Going there gives you a chance to meet people and talk.” Growing Power is also a source of 35 goodpaying jobs in an area of high unemployment. The staff of Growing Power is highly diverse—a mixture of young and old, AfricanAmerican, white, Asian, Native
garden.’” Erika Allen is carrying on her family’s 400yearold farming tradition at Growing Power’s Chicago Growing Youth Four middle and high schools bring students to Growing Power to learn about vermiculture (raising worms) and growing crops, and to eat the food they’ve grown. The impact can change the kids’ lives. Anthony Jackson started working at Growing Power when he was 14, with half of his earnings going to school clothes and half to a bank account that his church set up. At age 20, he went away to college. “I learned a good work ethic—that things don’t come easy,” he says of his time at Growing Power. “You’d see Will doing the same things he asked you to do.” The experience helped to shape the direction of his college education. “Early on, the importance of the healthy food really didn’t hit home,” he says. “But when I got a degree in natural resources, it came to mean a lot more.” Jackson, now 29, still maintains a strong connection, shopping at Growing Power and attending workshops. Working with the young people in the community is central to Growing Power’s work and its hopes for the future. It provides year round gardening activities for kids aged 1018 at its Milwaukee headquarters and offers summertime farming experience on its parcel in Merton, adjacent to the Boys and Girls Club’s Camp Mason.
American, and Latino, with remarkably varied work histories. All live nearby. Codirector Karen Parker, a high energy African- American woman who radiates warmth whether greeting her 6yearold granddaughter or welcoming a volunteer, notes that some staff are former professionals who left the high stress environments of corporations, social work, and other fields. At Growing Power they find a new kind of fulfillment in the blend of hard physical labor and thoughtful planning based on scientific research. Others are former bluecollar workers, farmers, or recent college graduates. All find satisfaction in transforming how Americans eat. Loretta Mays, 21, who works in the marketing department, was only 14 when Karen Parker recruited her into the Growing Power Youth Corps program. “It’s a good learning experience, and you learn the importance of good food. I never understood how food was grown. Now, its like, ‘Wow, I can grow my own
Growing Power recently leased five acres at Milwaukee’s Maple Tree School and built a community garden in partnership with the school. Growing Power also assists school gardens at the Urban Day School and the University School of Milwaukee. “For kids to make their own soil, grow their own food, and then get to eat it, that’s a very powerful experience,” Will Allen says. “There’s nothing like handson experience for kids who are bored with school. They get excited about what they’re learning and then take it back to their classes.” Growing Power on the Road Success in Milwaukee isn’t enough for Allen. Growing Power seeks nothing less than, in the words of the organization’s mission statement, “creating a just world, one foodsecure community at a time.” To show that the techniques pioneered in Milwaukee can work anywhere, Growing Power is helping set up five projects in
impoverished areas across the United States, including training centers in Forest City, Arkansas; Lancaster, Massachusetts; and Shelby and Mound Bayou, Mississippi. The largest application of Growing Power’s model is in Chicago, where Erika Allen, Will’s daughter, is carrying on the family tradition. The Chicago project started in the CabriniGreen public housing project, where Growing Power’s techniques helped the Fourth Presbyterian Church transform a basketball court into a flourishing community garden fueled by Will Allen’s beloved red worms. Growing Power also has a halfacre farm in Grant Park, in the heart of downtown Chicago. The Grant Park project focuses on job training for young people, involving them in all aspects of growing the 150 varieties of heirloom vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers the farm sells in Chicago farmers markets and project. through the FarmtoCity Market Basket program, like the one pioneered in Milwaukee. After Erika Allen, 39, earned a degree in art therapy, she eventually settled back into her family’s farming tradition, which she believes extends back some 400 years. “I was very much influenced by that tradition, and I got really inspired,” she says. “It was a way of learning to honor my ancestors.” But she has not turned her back on her artistic impulses. “With my love of art, the Grant Park project is an opportunity to integrate the two—with the colors, design, textures of the plants.” The most important element, she says, is “to see it inspiring other people. When people in communities like Detroit are really suffering, we can show that we did it in Chicago, with women and a bunch of teenagers.” The work of involving people in producing and distributing healthy food in Chicago’s food deserts is part of equalizing power in American society, Erika Allen says. “Our work is infused with social justice, fighting racism and oppression.” The same hunger for justice drives Will Allen’s
vision of changing the food system. “How do you take our model and our vision around the world?” Allen asks. “It takes some footsoldiers who become change agents. We’ve trained an awful lot of people.” Every year, 10,000 people tour the Growing Power farms. About 3,000 youths and adults from around the world participate in formal training sessions, learning how to build aquaponics systems, construct “hoop houses” (low-cost greenhouses covered by clear plastic), use compost to heat greenhouses, use worms to turn waste into rich fertilizer, and all the other lowtech, highyield techniques that Growing Power has developed or adapted. Will Allen takes obvious pleasure in seeing people fed healthy food in great quantities, just as his parents did on their small farm. But he says he derives his deepest satisfaction from a sense of changing the lives of other people harmed by the present food system and the inequities it reflects. “I don’t do things to satisfy myself,” he states firmly.
“ This is what I’m doing for a bigger pool of people out there.”
Marine conservationist Charles Saylan believes the U.S. educational system is failing to create responsible citizens who consider themselves stewards of the environment. To do that, he says in a Yale Environment 360 interview, educators need to go beyond rhetoric and make environmental values a central part of a public education.
You've dedicated your personal life to marine conservation. What were some of your early experiences with environmental education? Charles Saylan: When I was growing up, there wasn’t any formal environmental education per se — at that time, we didn’t know we were messing things up as badly as we are. I grew up in California spending most of my time outdoors, either climbing or sailing. Nature was where I wanted to be — I felt quite at home in the wilderness — and as I grew older, I saw those areas where I’d grown up dwindling, and increasingly being encroached upon. It made me want to do something to protect those places.
Was there a person or an experience that initially drew you into nature? Not really, but I was fortunate to grow up in a time when people had a different perception of their kids’ safety. When my friends and I were 12 years old, my parents dropped us off in Yosemite and left us there for three weeks to walk the John Muir Trail. I can’t imagine that happening these days. But it was a different time, and the world seemed a less dangerous place.
Your book has a provocative title: The Failure of Environmental Education. How has it failed? When we talk about failure, we’re being very pragmatic about it. We believe that environmental education has failed because it’s not keeping pace with environmental degradation, with human impacts on the
environment. I also think that it’s failed to provoke Environmental education has failed because it’s not keeping pace with environmental degradation.” The affluent kids are oversaturated — they can quote Aldo Leopold, but it’s just academic to them.” action. We have this idea that environmental education should provide us with the tools we need to make informed decisions, but I don’t believe we’re making informed decisions as a society commensurate with the pace of our consumption of the environment, our destruction of the environment. So if one looks at environmental education from the standpoint of getting bang for the buck spent, so to speak — and we think that bang for the buck should be measured in tangible impacts such as reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions — it’s just not happening.
Was there a moment when you realized that environmental education was failing in this sense? At the Ocean Conservation Society, we’ve done a lot of environmental outreach. And because we’re located in an affluent area, in west Los Angeles, we work with a lot of private schools. We also work with the city of Santa Monica, which is kind of the poster child for sustainable municipalities. In our book. we talk a lot about public education and how the standards on which public education is based don’t include environmental education. In private schools, especially these private schools, there’s a heavy emphasis on environmental education, and it’s a significant and strong part of the curriculum. And we didn’t see a lot of motivation in these kids. They knew the material and said what was expected of them, but we didn’t really see a change in behavior or a willingness to give something up for the benefit of the environment. Environmental education, typically, is based on this idea that if we make people aware, they’ll do the right thing. We were working with a highly aware community
that wasn’t doing the right thing. I started to question whether awareness translates to action at all.
So what was missing? Well, a lot of things, I think. In the book, we say clearly that we don’t have all the answers, that we don’t know the exact steps required for change, especially because the problems are different in every location and venue. But I think the biggest thing that’s lacking is relevance. I don’t think that environmental education as it’s currently taught directly affects the lives of the students we’re teaching.
At the Ocean Conservation Society, we did some environmental presentations on marine conservation at inner city schools. I went to a school in east L.A. where you had to go through metal detectors to get in, where the playground was filled with trash. And I felt very hypocritical giving a presentation to these kids, most of whom had never seen the ocean. Why should they care? I don’t think environmental education asks that often enough. So we initiated a cleanup program on the water. We partnered with a local kayak manufacturer and took these kids out on the water, which was engaging and exciting for them — most of them had never been on water, much less paddled in a kayak. We trained individual teachers and parents in the use of the equipment and then gave them open access — they could bring their students whenever they wanted. At the same time, we provided open access to other programs that offered hands-on experience — whale watching, marine-mammal rehabilitation — things that kids could get interested in and then take part in as much as they liked.
Did you see those kids engage? We had kids coming back weekly, not only because we were giving them a good time, but also because they were pulling trash out of the water, and they couldn’t ignore the mountain of junk that was coming out. That was a real object lesson. In that program we worked with a lot of different schools, both inner city and highly privileged schools. We saw a lot of growth in motivation in the students, but interestingly, while most of the inner city schools continued the program, the affluent schools, for the most part, abandoned it. The affluent kids are oversaturated — they can quote Aldo Leopold, they know this stuff, but it’s just academic to them.
Another reason given for the failure of environmental education is the politicization of environmentalism in general. Somewhere along the line, the environmental movement became synonymous with the hippie counterculture — in the media’s portrayal of it, and in some cases in environmentalists’ portrayal of themselves. As our world became more polarized, and as professional organizations began to manufacture doubt about science in the public mind, I think that association was increasingly used Students need to learn what moral systems are so that they understand what makes a good society.” to politicize and marginalize environmentalism and environmental protection. Nowadays, environmentalism is often seen as simply an encroachment on the free market. That’s completely wrong — wrong in the sense that environmentalism is a responsibility of being alive, of our need to drink water and eat food. It’s an individual and collective responsibility, whether we acknowledge it or like it or not.
You say that the term environmentalism should be abandoned. What should it be called instead? Responsible citizenship.
What are some of the first concrete steps that parents and teachers might take toward improving environmental education? It’s easy to theorize — of course, the toughest thing is implementation. I think top-down reforms are necessary for change, but I’m not sure that we’ll be able to develop and put them in place in time to mitigate environmental degradation. I do think that locally and individually, parents and teachers can help. I hear kids in grocery stores telling their parents not to buy this or that product because of its environmental impacts — and I think those lessons come from individual teachers, because that’s not an institutional approach. We don’t teach externalities.
Teachers are underpaid and undersupported, and they’re asked to do a very difficult, even impossible job. But I know at least 20 teachers I’ve worked with in the past 10 years whose classes are more motivated than the average, and who are themselves more motivated. They find a way to teach the importance of social engagement, and to insert some relevance for their students into the material they’re required to teach. I think we need to identify who those people are and support them as much as possible.
How specifically have teachers managed to teach these values in the classroom? We’ve worked with Animo Leadership High School, which is a Los Angeles magnet school run by the teachers’ union. Its curriculum is full of community action and engagement — the kids go out in the community and set up gardens, or help people save energy and money by insulating their houses. They pick their own projects and stay with them from inception to completion, over the course of several semesters if not through their entire stay at the school. The kids are highly motivated, highly engaged in the community, and highly successful in the No Child Left Behind sense — the vast majority go to college. The teachers and administrators at that school are also unusually motivated — they don’t let the system beat them down, which the system tends to do.
You've emphasized that it's impossible to write a general prescription for reform. But if the LA Unified School District were to adopt your suggestions, what might a typical high schooler's day look like? Well, it might not look that different than it does today, but the content might change. I would hope that some part of it would be spent outside. I would hope that students would get involved in changing their schools — physically changing the buildings — to make them more sustainable and more appealing to them, places where they wanted to spend time. Again, I think educational projects that involved community action would be a good thing. School gardens have proven to be a good idea on a lot of different levels — they have very direct, practical teaching potential. I also think that schools should restore some of the programs they’ve begun to give up, like literature, poetry, and aesthetics. I think students need to get beyond this intense focus we have now on economic performance, and learn why we need to perform economically, why our society is the way it is. They need to learn about moral systems — they shouldn’t be taught a particular system of morality, but they need to learn what moral systems are so that they understand what makes a good society.
Speaking broadly, beyond the three R's, what do you think every graduating senior in the United States should know? They need to be scientifically literate — it’s hard for people to understand climate science if they’re not scientifically literate. They need to read about and understand the political process, and understand why discourse and compromise is important to that. If the public education system were to provide those kinds of skills — John Dewey types of skills — we’d have a healthier society. We’d all be more likely to sacrifice for the greater good, which is what we’ll need to do if we’re going to mitigate some the environmental problems that we have, and that are coming down the line.
We've talked a lot about the problems with environmental education. Do you have a favorite moment from your own teaching experience where you saw environmental education really work in the way you envision it working? The Ocean Conservation Society had a mentorship program in which we helped groups of middle-school students develop their own plans for environmental outreach or action. One group decided to give a presentation to the Culver City council in support of a ban on plastic bags. We coached the students, but they approached the city council and did the presentation on their own, and they were phenomenal. It was truly democratic action.
And did the bag ban pass? Nope. But they learned how to find the right audience for their ideas and to make their voices heard. And they learned that if they didn’t succeed, they needed to go at it again.
I think many classroom teachers would say that they're already overwhelmed by trying to keep kids in school, preparing them for standardized tests, and teaching them essential skills. How can they fit environmental education into an already crowded day?
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Sweet Water Organics is an urban farm located in Bayview and housed in an old crane factory. It has seen a lot of growth in the past few years, but has a lot of growing up to do if it wants to keep itself afloat.
ocated in the neighborhood of Bay View south of downtown Milwaukee, Sweet Water Organics is an urban farm dedicated to producing fresh fish and produce for the local Milwaukee area. Started by Josh Fraundorf and Jim Godsil in 2008 when they converted an old crane factory into an indoor â€œwetland,â€? Sweet Water has since been growing into a hopeful dream for those wishing to shop locally and help their local community. Raising about 80,000 fish as well as fresh lettuce, sprouts, and other vegetables, Sweet Water aims to not only create produce for its local community, it has a very high outlook on educating and inspiring people within the community to become active in the lifestyle of a perpetual lifecycle that aquaponics and hydroponics systems can promote. However, despite its wonderful foundation and very positive mission, Sweet Water is still a young organization. With this, there come all of the similar issues that a new company has such as organization of members, staff, and work flow. I have now been helping out at Sweet Water for the semester and from what I have seen, it appears as though the passion is there to succeed though the staff may need a bit of direction. This is where my action plan can come into help. Sweet Water has many different facets that they would like to go into. One such idea is the development and implementation of Aquaponic systems for schools, businesses, and in home. The idea is to not only develop systems to create income for Sweet Water, but to also educate and inform member of our community. And I recently had the chance to sit down with Jesse Blom who is in charge of this entire project, in order to start brainstorming and putting together the various parts of the project necessary to insure its success. Essentially, the plan is to come up with a system in order to one day, manufacture small or large aquaponic systems to sell. We came up with 4 Main points that need to be addressed within this action plan: This is the Place
1. Research: We need to develop background information based on studies, information, and live experience in using and developing Aquaponic systems. This will help us to come up with better, more efficient and exciting systems for people to choose from. 2. Material Acquisition: As we promote the recycling and reuse of materials, we need to look around in search of possible suppliers for materials. Establishing a possible outlet of consistent materials to come in will also help in determining the possible systems that we will be able to design and implement. 3. File keeping: We need to establish a possible system to keep all pertinent information for the entire project together and organized throughout the span of its life. This may entail utilizing cloud like storage in the realm of computers using programs like Dropbox. Also the printing and keeping of physical documentation will also be required or highly sought after in prevention of loss. 4. Sustainability of project: The project itself will be in construction for what we estimate to be a few years. I will be looking at setting up a possible partnership with MIAD for the return of students each year to continue the work. Possibly open to but not limited to Design students as the project is more concerned with design. These are the main ideas that we need to look at as we progress into the future of the project. To start it off from here, I will be contacting Leslie, David Martin, as well as both Pascal Malassigne and John Caruso. I will be speaking to them about the plausibility of this project becoming a realization as a partnership with MIAD. After this, well will then work out the specifics of how the program will work. This concerns how students can be a part of the project whether it is in the form of Service learning or some other aspect. MIAD Bridge
The next step which can be done before or after, is for me to kick start the project by not only helping do research but also to do initial design work to get the ball rolling. Jesse described the use of Google Sketchup as a program to do most 3d design work within as it is a free program and can be accessed by even typical high school or college students. We will also have to look at using anything we can find at potential materials for design from in creating the systems. This is in regards to the fact that not all people will want to have the same system. Jess would really like to have the ability at this point to develop systems from the most basic elements to systems that incorporate more expensive materials and design aesthetic.
Experiences and Thoughts
For the most part, my service at Sweet Water Organics has been pretty fulfilling and enjoyable. I have learned a lot of aquaponics and hydroponics that I did not know before. As well, I have had the chance to meet a lot of exciting and friendly new people. Up until today, I have served 36 hours at Sweet Water and despite seeming like a decently sized number; I feel that it passed all so quickly. From the first time that I went there in the winter, I felt as if I would really enjoy my time there and I am please to say that I wasnâ€™t mislead in my feeling. In the very beginning it started off just like what I imagine a lot of other service projects to be; find an organization to help out with various tasks for a few hours to get my credit. Though as I knew once back in high school, service projects are seldom ever so simple. One aspect that a lot of people tend to forget about when they do this kind of work, are the relationships that can form with
people and the work that they are doing. This is exactly what happened for me. The very first activity that I helped out with was the management of the store. This included lots of various tasks such as ringing customers up, taking in people for the tours, taking care of garbage, and some other miscellaneous tasks. At first of course, I didnâ€™t think much of the place. I found its intent and operation to be fascinating but I was weary of how many hours I would have to perform there and wasnâ€™t looking forward to it. I started by working with Toni Johns who is more or less a program coordinator for the organization. Most of the time she can be found throughout the building or grounds helping with various projects or helping others. Over the course of the first few weeks, the work I did was about the same. I came in and helped out within the store almost always doing
the same type of activities. It wasnâ€™t until March 23rd that I met Jesse Blom who took me from the store to help with a much larger project that he had in mind. I actually heard of the project first from Sean Simmons who Jesse originally approached. Though due to the fact that Sean was just about done at Sweet Water, Jesse was pointed in my direction for help. Jesse took me on a short tour of what he was trying to accomplish at Sweet Water. He described systems of Aquaponics and Hydroponics and showed me how all of the systems worked at Sweet Water. The first system I got to work hands on with in an attempt to see how they worked was a small scale tank located in the main corridor of the building. Jesse gave me the task of analyzing the system and coming up with new designs and ways of making the system work. Up until now, I have spent the majority of my time working with Jesse, talking about how we can create these systems to not only educate others, but to possibly sell to gain profit for the organization. This is where I decided to use my opportunity for an action plan to not only help me with my requirements for class, but to also help further this project for Jesse and the Sweet Water organization. I wanted to get the opportunity to stay in contact with the organization and be an integral part of the project so that I can help make a difference within our community of Milwaukee.
This is the Place
Work Flow and Efficiency Though Sweet Water does a wondrous job in the community of providing fresh produce and fish for market, it is not the only service they provide. Some of the other services provided are as follows:
1. Provision of building for Art show/galleries and various shows.
2. Education aspect of tours and information provided to community members about the systems in use at sweet water. 3. Various landscaping projects including the reformation of the local landscapes from old broken down building areas to flower beds and various agricultural plots. 4. Store to provide naturally grown foods imported from other local farms.
In its essence, Sweet water is a growing entity that spawned out of very similar ideals to that of Growing Power. In fact, Jim Godsil actually started off within the Growing Power organization before branching off with Josh Fraundorf to start Sweet Water. Their mission statement since they began in 2008 has been to provide fresh, safe food for the local communities while maintaining reasonable prices and respecting the environment. Since then, they have done a great job of growing and expanding. Of course, growing to a something this size does have its issues. Despite aiming to try and fulfill their mission, when I began volunteering there it became quickly apparent that they weren’t operating at the most efficient level. Over the time that I have spent there I have come in contact with issues that typically arise from lack of good communication. When it boils down to it, I think the original owners had a dream that came true, and now that it has, they don’t adequately understand how to keep it going at its best capacity. While they have grown over the years, they have gotten some very capable and helpful individuals to come on board to help realize their dream. A lot of the people who help out here don’t even get paid to be there which is also really interesting considering how much attention the organization actually gets. Nonetheless, while having a lot of people, I discovered that the chain of authority is very hard to follow and much unorganized. While some individuals like Toni Johns actually take the time to try and get around and organize whats going on, it seems that most of the people don’t quite know what is going on with anyone else in any other department. This is where I think the biggest downfall of the organization is. It would be worth noting the actual irony of being able to call the place MIAD Bridge
an “organization” in the first place. Even with as much public interaction that they get there, one would think there would be more incentive to get together with everyone and make sure everyone was on the same page. Alas, in the end, there are more very young people who should be in positions of power at Sweet Water, than some of the older people who run the place. There is great drive by everyone there but I feel that it is hard for everyone to see the way everyone else sees the organization.
My Best and Worst moments
Overall, I have really enjoyed doing work for Sweet Water. Since working with Jesse I think I have gotten a chance to feel a little more like an active member of the community in helping with the Aquaponic system design. Even still, I think no matter what I would have been doing at Sweet Water, my time would not have been wasted. I feel that the importance and impact I can make on others there has been quite high, especially when I was working within the store. In fact, one of my more important experiences came from working within the store. I was asked to go retrieve some fish for someone who came in and ordered them. I had to go back in the farm area and gather up about 8 fish. Once I got in the main farm room however, there was a tour that had been underway. I was directed though, not to sit and wait around for the tourists to not be in the way as the business needed to get its work done. I then started gathering fish while the people were
asking questions about 10 feet in front of me. It was really interesting because even though a lot of them had started the tour listening to Jim Godsil, by the end, a majority of them had been paying attention to what I was doing. I felt as though I had in turn become the tour guide. They started to ask questions and make observations. The best part of this was the fact that I got to use all of my recently acquired information about the work I was doing to answer their questions. It made me feel like I was teaching others about the processes of working there even though I had only been a volunteer at this point for about 2 weeks. I have always liked being able to teach others different topics and ideas, but in this case it was so much more exciting. This was the second time that I had to go get fish so my adrenaline was rushing as I was trying very hard not to screw anything up. In addition to answering questions from adults, there were also some children there. Perhaps the children were my favorite part, perhaps not; either way however, I really enjoyed seeing their faces light up when I started
A lot of the p out here don to be there w really intere how much at organizatio Issue 07
to show them the fish up close and what I was doing with them. At one moment, one very observant child made the point of asking his parents why I was freezing the fish. They replied to their child by telling him that someone had bought them. At which point he said, “But they’ll die!” It wasn’t until I heard him say this that I felt a little mournfulness for the fish. Alas, in the end I think it was one of the more close up and personally riveting moments that I have had while volunteering there at Sweet Water Organics. Among the best times, there of course were some times that I had worked at Sweet Water which weren’t so great. These times usually come right back to the idea of miscommunication and un-organized business. Of the instances when I was a bit overwhelmed there at Sweet Water, there were two that stuck out the most. The first being while I was working in the store and helping to sell products and take in people for tours. The girl that I wasworking with in the morning was 17 and had a pretty good head on her shoulders. I explained that it was one of the first times that I had been helping there and she was going through what I would need to do in the store while I was there.
she simply let me figure everything out on my own even when seeing me struggle to keep up. It felt almost as if I was some sort of lackey of hers, doing all her work while she sat back to watch. Thankfully though, I never did end up having the chance to work with her. I wish I could say that, that experience was the only time where I felt lost within a fairly new position as a volunteer there at Sweet Water. In the very beginning, I almost always felt as if the people who I was helping just expected me to know what was going on right away. If one would go to Sweet Water, they would find that you can almost do anything you want there without anyone yelling at you. Because no one really seems to care to know whats going on with anyone else, if someone stopped you and you knew what names to drop, they wouldn’t think anything of you being there doing whatever it was you were doing.
When I look at my experience at Sweet Water, it is apparent that despite the lack of communication there definitely seems to be a sense of community there. Everyone is very accepting of others and very happy to Later that day however, she had to go into the farm area get to know them assuming they openly interact with to tend to the fish. Before she had to go, she told me that them. It was interesting because when we talked about another person would be in to help me so that I wouldn’t community in class, there was always a lot of things to get overwhelmed in my duties. However, the other take into consideration when evaluating the effectiveness person they had come in and help was a slightly older girl of Milwaukee’s greater community that closely paralleled who didn’t seem too interested in helping me do the work what I was seeing within Sweet Water. On some kind of at all. I won’t name names here, but even after she told much smaller level, the same kind of principles and traits me that she had been helping the store for a long time, that a much larger community might have, were clearly visible within even the small community of Sweet Water.
people who help n’t even get paid which is also esting considering ttention the on actually gets. This is the Place
Ideas such as segregation, politics, and jobs, were all a part of this system that I had been seeing at Sweet Water, if only in a much more hypothetical and conceptual sort of way. What I really mean by this is that when I see different people who work there, it becomes obvious that based on their role at Sweet Water they automatically seem to fit within some kind of social construct we humans have created, if only slightly removed from the real world outside. The owners of the organization are the essential politicians. The workers are the home owners and tax payers of the organization. And the different dynamics of how everyone works with each other can surround many different aspects that we have even talked about in class. I find it interesting to see how the various aspects of the organization come together to form its own smaller community. To see the human interaction and immediately have ideas about why it does and doesn’t work is something of an interesting topic. I think that MIAD Bridge
most people do this subconsciously insanely rich out of a dream here in whenever they are permitted within a America. social interaction or system that they work within the confines of. The way I see it which goes close to those points brought up by Stephen Overall, I enjoyed the community of Marche, is that it’s not just the fact sweet water. But like the US’ problem that it’s those who own versus those of high inequality, I think some who don’t. To simplify it even further, light needs to be shined down from it’s those who have established a the owners of the company to the market in something concerning a smaller workers on the bottom who basic need by humans that have it really see what is going on there as the easiest. Why banks and financial some new help in reviving or simply companies make the most money out maintaining the dream of Sweet of everything? It is because it these Water. companies cover the largest need by people; Money. Money is the key to trading, the key to have means. Following these companies you see that medical, food, and insurance companies are next on the list of high earners. Again it is because they have established a cornerstone as being providers in a human need.
We Are Not All Created Equal
A lot of what I was just talking about above seems to have to deal with what was being said in the article, “We Are Not All Created Equal.” In reading the passage and then simply analyzing the current state of the US the way I did with Sweet Water, the lack of balance becomes painfully honest. It was one of those, “how the hell didn’t I see that before, AHA!” kind of moments. I’ll admit, that at first I thought it was going to be another simple cry from a far left author complaining about how the rich are the reason that the US is so shitty these days. It turns out I wasn’t far from the truth, but even when trying to remain ignorant myself, the points brought up by the author are far more than valid. I enjoy the first main idea of how the old American Dream simply isn’t true anymore… which is right… sort of. It’s not to say that one can’t become rich by simply working hard, but I refuse to believe that it isn’t possible for people to still become MIAD Bridge
group of people now that try to make money this way. Just like most things in life, it’s about learning what to invest yourself in. If you find a good job that you will have potential to move up in, it seems a good way to go. However, for most people, unless you have a reason to be there from someone else in power already, you probably will have a harder time getting to a position that you would want to be in anyway.
The end word.
Throughout this entire class I have learned a lot about community and how I can not only be a part of it, but view it, and understand it as well. All of the various information that I have learned can all be a part of something As time runs on here in America, I think people will see that unless they larger when I look at it objectively from afar. One of the main reasons have a history in something that’s I chose to do my project with Sweet already established in producing something that people want, it will be Water was not only because I had harder and harder to “make it big” by ties in helping already for service learning, but also that it would help starting something new. There seem me utilize the information that I to be a few options for those who have learned about community to want to make it big. One way would help out and become a part of one. I be to do something entrepreneurial see the way things work, and I want and start a company in a field that to try and become part of them and already exists such as the insurance try my hand at helping to create field. However, for this there needs something that succeeds. Hopefully to be a large financial backing and with the right amount ambition and good faith that the company will team work, I can help be a part of succeed. It’s a risk, but as long as it’s not only a wonderful project that a company that can ride on the fact helps educate others about and that we will keep populating and providing a need, there’s a possibility implement renewable sources of food and energy, but to also help create that the owner and anyone involved a partnership between school and will make money. Another way which seems to happen Sweet Water, further deepening the more and more nowadays is the idea sense of community within our area. of a one hit wonder service. Or doing something that is so out there but so interesting to people that it explodes and produces lots of money for its maker. The problem with this is that it’s almost impossible to do by chance and there’s an exponentially larger Issue 07
A map of milwaukee county parks by aaron czarnecki
The Milwaukee lakefront has loads of different parks and beaches to visit. Most are fairly close to one another as well, which makes for a perfect run, walk, or bike ride through.
3233 E Kenwood Blvd Lake Park was designed in the late 19th century by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed Central Park in New York City along with many others. Believing that access to nature had a civilizing and restorative effect on the urban public, Olmsted designed Lake Park in the Romantic tradition, with a preference for natural (over formal) landscaping, winding paths, a variety of vistas, incorporation of wildlife, and a balance between active recreation and more passive enjoyment.
during the Spring and Summer months. It is also a great park to have a stroll through as it is so large. In addition to flying kites, you can rent a paddel boat or board for the lagoon that runs through nearly half of the park.
910 E Michigan St Generally overlooked because of its location, Oâ€™Donnel Park is tucked away near the Milwaukee Art Musuem. It has a set of winding pathways through some stretches of grass and trees. The perfect place to sit down on a sunny day and read a book. Because of its location it is a wonderful place to get some alone time.
2400 N Lincoln Memorial Dr In the summer is made up of volleyball courts. Bradford is by far the most popular beach in Milwaukee and draws large crowds on warm days. It was also ranked the #3 beach in the nation by USA Today readers. Which is a huge surprise due to the amount of winter in Wisconsin. But Bradford is popular enough that even the Wisconsin weather canâ€™t deter people from camping out on the sand.
1750 N Lincoln Memorial Dr McKinley Beach is a small cresent-shaped section of sand located off of the Oakleaf Trail. It is a great beach to go to if Bradford is too crowded and you don't want to go too far from where you already are.
1010 N Lincoln Memorial Dr Although there is no sand to be found in Veterans Park, it is still full of space and is a great place to fly kites. There is even a kite shop located on the grounds that is open
Lake park Bradford Beach mckinley beach veterans park o'donnel park
by Peggy Schulz Image by Aaron Czarnecki
“ ave the park.” That was the single, notsosimple goal of a very loosely organized group of concerned residents of Riverside Park in the early 1990s. Little did they know that two decades later, a trio of nationally recognized ecology education centers would grow out of their efforts. Today, school children in three distinct neighborhoods; Riverside Park, Washington Park and Menomonee Valley boast an Urban Ecology Center where children learn about ecology and their environment through a wide range of programs and activities, including “outdoor laboratories,” a full year of trips for students at nearby schools, afterschool programs and preschool programs.
garden plots. Even before all the homes were demolished, though, MPS changed its plans. By 1991, the entire expanse had become crimeridden, including the area between what was by then a bike trail (but had earlier been railroad tracks) and the Milwaukee River. It was filled with trash and invasive plant species. It was time to reclaim the park, but the concerned neighbors weren’t at all sure how they were going to do it. After a lot of thought, they decided to begin by cleaning it up, with the ultimate goal of using the park to teach neighborhood children about ecology and being friends of the earth. Litter and crime would be replaced with learning. A doublewide trailer was placed just
“ The land was healed with volunteers, and the kids were learning about their environment.” In September, the newest location, in the Menomonee Valley at 37th and Pierce streets, was named a finalist for the 2013 MANDI awards, in the State Farm Building Blocks Award category. Washington Park as a whole also is a MANDI finalist. The site of the original UEC, Riverside Park, was designed in 1865 by Frederick Law Olmsted as the western anchor of Newberry Boulevard, with Lake Park serving as the eastern anchor. In the years since the park was created, it had fallen into disrepair. With the intent of building an MPS middle school, a square block and a half of homes to the south of the original Riverside Park were torn down, beginning in the late 1960s. That land then stood mostly vacant for decades, with the exception of occasional
north of Park Place and east of the bike trail. MPS had built tennis courts at the southern end of the property. UEC was able to arrange a land swap, of sorts, with MPS to use the westernmost court space. The earliest classes began in the trailer. It wasn’t until 2004 that the awardwinning Riverside Park location of the Urban Ecology center opened. Looking back, “I inherited a fair amount of angst,” said Ken Leinbach, UEC executive director since 1998. The trailer sat on MPSowned land, while a good portion of Riverside Park was owned by Milwaukee County, making the center’s standing somewhat tenuous. But in relatively short order, UEC worked out a preservation lease with the county for $1 per year. The center now manages the countyowned portion of the parkland with volunteers. A capital campaign
“ you don’t set out to create a model.” followed shortly thereafter, based on the long list of schools that already had asked to have their students participate in UEC activities. The early goal of saving Riverside Park was realized. “We essentially turned a problem into an asset,” Leinbach said. “The land was healed with volunteers, and kids were learning about their environment.” Just as the Riverside Park location grew out of a desire to save the park, the Washington Park and Menomonee Valley sites were “natural” areas in the city that needed restoration. According to Leinbach, in planning all three locations UEC took certain factors into account: a nearby body of water, woods and fields; proximity to schools; and some measure of wealth in the surrounding neighborhood. “We knew we needed the neighbors’ help to sustain our program economically,” Leinbach explained. The mission of all three UEC sites can be boiled down to “intentionally/ institutionally getting kids connected to nature with adult mentors,” Leinbach said. The founders never intended the center to be a model for anyone else. “I think you do something and it can become a model, if it works,” Leinbach said. “You don’t set out to create a model.” But it has turned into one, even internationally. Author Richard Louv mentioned UEC in his book “Last Child in the Woods.” Leinbach recently received an email from a professor in Bangladesh who read Louv’s book and wants to create a program there based on what UEC has done. In the U.S., cities from San Diego to Syracuse and in between have consulted with UEC staff on creating similar programs in their cities. Dennis Grzezinski, a UEC board member, describes three aspects of the center
that have contributed to its success: environmental education, a community center and a nature center. The variety of programming is based on just a few primary concepts, Grzezinski said. “Proximity of the students to the center promotes deeper relationships between the students and the educators as mentors or models,” he said. Schools that participate must be within a 2.5 mile radius. That makes it easier for the students to return to the center over and over and establish a connection to a natural place that has different seasons, where they can plant bushes and trees and watch them grow over time. Grzezinski also is a man who believes in miracles. He has seen it time and again in fundraising for the center. “Miracles continue to happen,” he said. “We just need to prepare the ground, plant the seed, and add fertilizer and water.” One such miracle was a woman who lived near the Riverside Park site. In her will, she left a portion of her estate to UEC. Initially, her lawyer estimated $75,000 to $100,000 would come to the center. Subsequently, however, her family discovered several corporate bonds in books throughout her home, including between the carpeting and wood floor! The center received about triple the original estimate. “This organization ... comes from humble, commonsense, lowbudget origins,” Grzezinski said. “We do things on a shoestring budget. Environmentalism is about using resources carefully and not wasting them.” Those humble origins made the estate gift that much more remarkable. When Leinbach was studying environmental education in graduate school, he recalls thinking that the world is a fragile place and we humans weren’t helping. Through the Urban Ecology center’s three locations, many humans are helping —reclaiming, rebuilding and maintaining fragile, natural places for the long term, and creating a stronger sense of community in the process.
Image by Aaron Czarnecki
The Reluctant Composter by elissa gootman
When my oldest son returned from a firstgrade field trip last year insisting that our family start composting, my heart did not exactly soar. After six years of changing diapers, I wasn’t looking to take on additional waste-management responsibilities. I switched the subject, and our melon rinds and abandoned cheese sticks continued their steady march into the trash. Then my middle son started kindergarten. On the second day, he, too, arrived home to proclaim the need to compost, explaining that it was good for the earth. “The bugs eat the compost,” he noted, “then they poop it out and it makes better soil.” This got me thinking about how much of the school curriculum is devoted to composting, and whether it was a ruse for legitimizing bathroom talk. But it also focused my attention on the obscene amount of barely touched foo my family sends to landfills. When your children repeatedly beg you to compost, your options are limited. After all, “No, because Mommy and Daddy don’t care about preserving the Earth for you, your children and your children’s children,” is not the message most parents are trying to send. The time to compost had come. As I called around for advice, I was comforted to discover other reluctant composters, even ones with credentials. Lynn Miller, chief executive of 4GreenPs, a green marketing firm in Bethesda, Md., confessed to being a “lapsed composter.” “There are only so many battles you can choose to fight with your better half,” she said. “I won the battle about yes, we are going to spend more money to buy organic shampoos and soap. I decided to let the composting battle slip.”A couple of years ago, Jill Fehrenbacher, the founder and editor in chief of a green design Web site, Inhabitat, took a composter to the office on the Lower East Side that the company shared with a few other small businesses. It did not take long for her co-workers’ initial enthusiasm to dissolve. “It got to the point where everyone was, like:
‘Jill, this thing’s stinky. You need to pick it up and take it home,’ ” she recalled. (She suspects that certain office mates were not using it properly.) I was interested in what more than one composting expert described as “lazy man’s composting,” so I set out to find composters that were easy to use, lowmaintenance and city-friendly. I also wanted them to look great. While I’m not a design fiend, I do recognize that a beautiful product can make an odious task more pleasant. There are plenty of striking compost buckets, which are canisters you put food scraps in before you take them to the composter or compost pile. Blanco, a German company, has created a stainless-steel compost bucket designed to be embedded in a kitchen countertop. There is no need for a container taking up space by the sink, and the only thing visible is a metal lid. The green design revolution, though, has made few inroads with actual composters. This is not a big deal for people with sprawling yards. In small spaces, it’s a different story. In one notable attempt to mix composting form and function, Levitt Goodman Architects of Toronto created a prototype of a “vermicondo” several years ago: a worm composter resembling a sleek white apartment building with a rooftop garden. “Urban agriculture is hot, urban chickenkeeping is hot; think about all of the incredibly cool backyard chicken coops that have come up,” said Janna Levitt, a partner in the firm. With the right design, she suggested, composting could be seen to be “as interesting, as sexy, as innovative” as keeping chickens. When Mio, a Philadelphia sustainable-design company, included a bright green cylindrical worm composter in a collection it sold at Target during a limited run a few years ago, the eco-design crowd cheered. Consumers, not so much. “We thought that with design we could get more people composting,” said Jaime Salm, an owner of Mio and its creative director. “From a sales point of view, it was a definite challenge.”
He added: “It’s a very strange thing that has to do more with a cultural perception of what waste is than anything else.” In an effort to challenge my own perceptions, and succumb to the relentless lobbying from my sons, I tested out a few different models: The NatureMill Ultra composter costs $400, so the price alone will no doubt turn off many people. But it is sleek and made of stainless steel, cleverly triggering a jolt of excitement in the sort of person who loves a new kitchen appliance. It must be plugged in, using about 50 cents’ worth of electricity a month, the company says, to speed decomposition by heating and turning the contents. And unlike traditional composters, the NatureMill takes dairy and meat. Composting, as I’ve learned, is all about balancing “greens” (fruit, vegetables) and “browns” (wood shavings, dry leaves). The greens provide nitrogen, the browns provide carbon, and if the mix is not right, odors result. The NatureMill came with a box of sawdust pellets, which are “browns,” and baking soda, which balances out food acidity. When you toss in food scraps you are supposed to also toss in pellets and baking soda. My boys eagerly awaited the arrival of the 1,800 worms that I ordered on Amazon for the Worm Factory 360 ($110 for the Worm Factory, $27 for the red wigglers). They watched the accompanying DVD several times and helpfully created the “worm bedding” by mixing water with paper scraps and a part of a coir brick, made from coconut husks, that came with the composter. They dumped in the worms and immediately started referring to them as their pets. I was then asked to take a picture, to provide proof of the worms to a skeptical fifth grader on their bus. I tested one outdoor composter, the Envirocycle Mini ($130), which might work for people with little outdoor space. I liked its small size and the barrel design. It seemed to hit a sweet spot — unobtrusive enough that neighbors would not mind seeing it in a shared outdoor space, but not so nice that someone would likely steal it. The fourth option I tested was actually a compost pickup business, one among many that have cropped up across the country in recent years. They are designed for people who like the idea of composting more than the actual project. For a monthly fee, a company picks up your bucket of scraps and composts it; most services will return with soil if you want it. In the Washington area alone, there is the Compost Crew, Compost Cab and Fat Worm. In Brooklyn, Vandra Thorburn has started Vokashi. For an initial fee of $15 plus $40 a month, Ms. Thornton drops off a plastic airtight bucket, then picks it up when it’s full. Ms. Thorburn uses a method called bokashi, which is not actually composting but, rather, fermentation. (Bokashi is a Japanese term; the “V” in Vokashi is for Vandra.) The food scraps are “pickled,” Ms. Thorburn explained, a process helped along with bran that has been fortified with micro-organisms and that you are supposed to sprinkle atop each installment of food. The advantage of bokashi is that you can put in meat, chicken bones, dairy and more. The downside of bokashi is that the fermented waste still needs to decompose, so it must be buried in the ground or tossed into another composter. Because I was using a pickup service, of course, this was Ms. Thorburn’s problem, not mine. Testing four composters at once can get confusing. Which one can take coffee filters, again, and which only coffee grounds? On more than one occasion I found myself reaching into a composter to retrieve something that I just wasn’t sure about.
hard-earned insights, which might be useful to others who may be under pressure from small schoolchildren to take the plunge: I am not a worm person. I was, in fact, concerned that I wouldn’t be able to sleep peacefully with hundreds of worms in the house. When the worms did not arrive the day I expected them to, I feigned disappointment. What I felt was relief that bordered on joy. As soon as we unpacked the Worm Factory 360, though, I felt like one of those home-schooling moms who is always doing amazing projects with her five or six children. The boys put the composter together, checked on the worms when we came back after a weekend away, and took responsibility for feeding the worms after dinner. It dawned on me that “vermicomposting,” as it’s called, could be a gateway to helping out around the house. On the nights that I composted by myself, though, I gravitated to the other composters. After a long day, I never wanted to look at those worms. After I decided to compost, I realized it could be an excellent opportunity for the kids to recognize how much food they waste, and to stop doing so. This has yet to occur. When I’ve commented on how wasteful it is to declare oneself “starving,” then decide after two bites of a second helping that one is actually “stuffed,” they have said, “That’s O.K., we can feed it to the worms!” One thing that I truly did not expect was the satisfaction I felt tossing chopped-up apple cores, cucumber peels and broccoli and tofu that are left on dinner plates into the composters. There is something Sisyphean about filling lunchboxes on a Monday night and then having to throw the remnants into the trash on Tuesday. Composting them somehow felt less futile. For better or worse, I will never again be able to throw away peels and rinds, let alone actual food, without feeling guilty. But which composter to stick with? The Envirocycle got points simply because it was outside. When I opened the door to pop in new food scraps, it did not stink up my kitchen. I loved that we were able to put meat, dairy and pretty much everything else into the Vokashi; leftover cereal in particular is a constant scourge. I found myself using this container often when it was late at night and I was fuzzy on the details of which composter takes what. Sometimes I went too far: I knew that leftover tuna salad should just go in the trash, but I was feeling virtuous and pushed my luck, tossing it into the Vokashi. The NatureMill blends right in, wedged between a stainlesssteel bread maker and a recycling bin. While an unpleasant fragrance was sometimes emitted when I opened it, I realized that I had been composting broccoli, kale and brussels sprouts, despite the warning that “strong odors will result.” And when I asked my husband if he had been throwing sawdust pellets in after the food scraps, he asked, “What sawdust pellets?” Visitors of all ages are impressed that we harbor worms. With the holiday season, though, and many late nights out for the boys, the composting has been increasingly taking place after bedtime, meaning the worms have been increasingly neglected. Come to think of it, they may be starving. Excuse me while I remind the kids to feed their pets.
On nights when I was especially tired and really did not feel like chopping up mango peels or figuring out whether there was some way to compost the pits, I stuffed food scraps into plastic grocery bags and put them in the fridge to deal with later (to the dismay of my husband and baby sitter, who at times unwittingly opened these bags thinking there might be something edible inside). At this point in my composting adventure, I have emerged with some
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