I come by my passion for sustainability and composting honestly. Reduce, reuse, recycle was my mother’s subconscious mantra. Reduce was easy. We had no store-bought processed food. Everything we ate was cooked or made by my parents. I didn’t drink my first cola until I was in my 20s, my first beer well before that! Everything that entered our home was reused, every piece of string rolled up and put in a drawer. The grease-proof wrapping on butter was scraped and saved to line the pan when a fruit cake (I’m English, so I love fruit cake) was baked.
My dad grew much of what we ate. There was an annual ritual around growing runner-beans – like flat string beans only a delicious full flavor. In the autumn, a 6-inch deep, 35-feet long trench was dug. Into this we threw culled cabbage leaves, broad-bean and pea pods, the stalks from Brussels sprouts, the peelings from potatoes, turnips and swede (rutabaga), even some waste paper. That material composted over the winter. In the early spring, the trench was filled in and the beans, saved from last year’s crop, planted. The 8-ft. bamboo canes to stake the row were reused each year and carefully stored over the winter after rubbing with linseed oil to keep out moisture.
We moved closer to town when I was about 11. One of the first things my dad built was an updated version of his compost piles. This time, he used cinder blocks with holes through them. Each pile was a bit over a cubic meter in volume. Although this garden was smaller, we had room, of course, for the runner beans.
In my life I’ve been involved in many things. In the Royal Navy, I was a submarine navigator, then an “expert” in passive anti-submarine warfare. But eventually, with parents like mine, how could I end up doing anything other than being part of a team that makes compost?
Composting is, you know, the most under-rated environmental process. The world is losing topsoil at an alarming rate. Once there were 12 inches of topsoil on the Great Plains. Today, only 4 inches remain — probably less than that with this spring’s floods washing topsoil down the rivers into the Gulf. That can be replaced most efficiently with compost. But it will require a sustained effort. So, if you have a waste, such as DAF sludge, biosolids, food waste or yard waste, I urge you to consider this: You actually control a resource that, when composted, will help solve the topsoil problem. This, in turn, will help places like Texas minimize the effect of this year’s drought, and it will help grow “good food” so we can feed the world’s 7 billion people.