A new scheme aims to get our food out of the bin
NEAR the pig pen at Collingwood Children’s Farm, there’s a compost pile 20 metres long and over a metre tall. At one end, the mound is cluttered with cabbage leaves and straw. By the time it reaches the other, it has transformed into rich, dark humus: the sign of prosperity for food growers.
“It’s all just billions of microbes eating and breeding,” explains Kat Lavers, chief composter with Cultivating Community, as steam rises from pile. “A good hot compost like this could be ready in a month.”
The compost windrow, together with two giant worm farms in the shade of nearby peppercorn trees, is a community compost hub. It’s the first of four to be built in the City of Yarra, as part of a new project called Food Know How.
The neighbourhood composting hubs are just one element of the scheme, which was launched in June. Together with Yarra council, Cultivating Community is seeking 500 local residents, 32 cafes and 3 offices to participate.
Right now, food waste comprises more than half the average household rubbish bin in the municipality. That means we’re all squandering good soil, food and money, from the residents through to the authorities. We’re paying to offload a useful resource to landfill, only for it to rot into methane – a potent greenhouse gas.
“We’re dooming all those nutrients and embodied water and energy to no man’s land, where we can’t recover them,” says Pete Huff, from Cultivating Community. “By learning some simple skills in our households and businesses we can cut the Yarra waste stream in half. It makes good financial and environmental sense and it makes good sense as citizens as well.”
He says the first skill is to avoid food wastage in the first place. The program’s website carries links to recipe ideas for leftovers and odds and ends.
If your salad greens often go slimy or your packets pass their use-by date, Mr Huff recommends making a meal plan and a shopping list to match it – after you check the pantry to see what’s already there. “They’re all simple things, but it’s about smart shopping, clever cooking and storing food correctly,” he says.
When it comes to unavoidable waste – the not-so-edible food scraps such as lemon peels, banana skins or eggshells – the answer is compost. Participants in the program will be subsidised to purchase a worm farm or composting system to suit their needs, and then helped to do it right with workshops and advice.
“Well-managed compost and worm systems don’t smell and they take up little room and time,” Mr Huff says. “We want these systems in people’s backyards, on balconies, or laneways. And if that’s not an option we’ll put them in their neighbourhood so they’re part of the fabric of the community.”
At the Collingwood Children’s Farm, volunteers will collect food scraps from cafes in the area, and pedal them to the compost hub on specially designed Trisled cargo trikes, which can lug up to 100 kilos at a time.
As well as the food scraps, Ms Lavers adds animal bedding and cardboard to the mix to provide a source of carbon. It’s a serious operation: to turn the pile, she pilots a bobcat.
“We see compost as a real asset, particularly in an urban environment where fertility can be an issue,” says Mr Huff.