Upcoming Composting Workshops: Learn How Composting Can Make the World Healthier

Composting a Backyard in Newark.jpg
Composting a Backyard in Newark

Did you know home composting reduces methane emissions and helps sequester carbon—all in the space of your own back yard?  And you can create a home-grown soil amendment, which will make your soil, your garden, and the rest of your landscape environmentally healthier.  This session explains how to compost vegetable and fruit waste from your kitchen, along with other organic waste.  We will discuss compost “recipes,” how to choose or build a composter, and how to troubleshoot any challenges that arise.  A counter top collection container and easy to use take home handouts with reminders from the session and a resource list for further reading will be provided.

Whether you have never composted or are currently composting, THIS WORKSHOP IS FOR YOU!

NON-COMPOSTER:  Are you thinking, “It would be too hard to compost at my house.  I don’t have time, I don’t have a yard or I am afraid that my neighbors will think my compost pile is stinky.  Why should I come to this workshop?”

  • Learn how you can be a “lazy-composter” like me, minimizing work but still getting the best soil feeding food ever.
  • Learn how to avoid odors.
  • Learn how to compost even on a balcony, in your garage or in your kitchen.

ALREADY COMPOSTING AT HOME:  Are you thinking, “I already compost at my home, so I don’t need to learn how to compost.  Why should I come to this workshop?”

  • Learn about the soil foodweb that makes soil able to support optimal plant growth while also cleaning up pollutants out of the air and water.
  • Learn a better way of applying compost to your garden, to help reduce weeds and also reduce the soil nutrient losses that occur with standard compost adding and even standard gardening practices.
  • Learn how composting can help reduce harmful volatization/gasification of carbon.

Composting Workshop Dates and Locations:

  • February 15 , 2017: Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, Pennington, 7-9 p.m. $20/$15 (includes free counter top collection container and “Rottwheeler”)  See: http://www.njriverfriendly.org/resident (scroll down for workshops)
  • February 22, 2017: Fairview Farm Wildlife Preserve, Bedminster, 7-9 p.m. $20/$15 (includes free counter top collection container and “Rottwheeler”)  See: http://www.njriverfriendly.org/resident (scroll down for workshops)
Simple Pallet Composter.jpg
Simple Pallet Composter With a Leaf Corral for Carbon Sourcing

 

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Planting Signs in Your Natural Landscape Part Two–River-Friendly Resident Certification, Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association

river-friendly-sign

The first of my landscape signs to arrive was the wonderful River-Friendly sign pictured above.  This certification recognizes actions taken both outside, in the landscape, and inside, by using less water for everyday activities, while looking through the lens of water quality and quantity with a side of healthy wildlife habitat.  The program is voluntary (no one is forcing you) and free!  Although there is a somewhat similar education and outreach program without certification in California, this program is currently specific to New Jersey (although with a few Pennsylvania participants).  The River-Friendly program has a new website at http://www.njriverfriendly.org/ with technical assistance resources including in-person training sessions starting early 2017; these are especially valuable to those of us on this journey towards making our yard look like something other than a desert with nothing for the critters to eat and nowhere for them to hide or live.  The program has also just won the New Jersey Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award in the Water Category.

The River-Friendly program, begun in the late 1990s, involves a partnership of two non-profits and a state agency, all with an interest in keeping our water bodies clean for not only humans, but for plants and animals.  Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association (SBMWA) is a non-profit that was started in 1949 as the first environmental organization in Central New Jersey.  As the only one of the three organizations with a staff member, Brittany Musolino, dedicated specifically to the program, the SBMWA will take the lead, working with its state agency partner New Jersey Water Supply Authority (NJWSA) and its non-profit partner Raritan Headwaters Association (RHA).  The certification program has a separate track each for golf courses, businesses, schools and residents (homes).  Businesses and golf courses are required to provide documentation beyond what is required of residents, and “usually create narratives with attached maps, monitoring sheets, etc.”  Schools can start with a basic registration, and work on achieving graduated levels of certification, reflecting more and more River-Friendly elements.

A sister program, administered by North Jersey Resource Conservation and Development (NJRC&D), supported by a large partnership of its own, offers River-Friendly certification status to farmers.

In answer to the question “What does River-Friendly mean to us?”, the website provides details and support in four main areas, each with their own specific goals:

  • Water Quality Management: Manage stormwater on property to reduce polluted runoff.
  • Water Conservation: Decrease indoor and outdoor potable water usage.
  • Wildlife Habitat Enhancement: Enhance property features to support beneficial native species.
  • Education & Outreach: Share information and encourage environmental stewardship.

Here are some sample actions required for Resident certification (some edited for brevity):

  • My gutters are directed away from paved areas and onto vegetation or into a rain barrel.
  • I planted groundcovers or other vegetation or used mulch to cover exposed soil areas.
  • I dispose of household chemicals properly (the SBMWA questionnaire also includes proper disposal of prescription drugs, with the Project Medicine Drop program, available at local police departments 24/7).
  • I never water my lawn, I water early in the day or I water according to a soil moisture sensor.
  • I converted a portion of my lawn to garden or natural vegetation using native species.
  • I have a compost pile and use compost as a soil amendment

The program will kick off the new year with a series of supporting workshops to help residents, either certified or not yet certified, to achieve more River-Friendly land stewardship.  The initial series will include sessions on rain garden design, composting and soil health, rainwater harvesting, and adding native plants to your landscape.  You can sign up at http://www.njriverfriendly.org/resident; scroll to the bottom of the page for registration.  I will be doing the two composting workshops, so I hope to see some of you there.

I was pleased that I was able to achieve certification under this program, but it has made me realize how much farther I will need to go to give nature more than a foothold in my yard.  I hope you will find this as valuable as I did.

 

Ravishing Radishes

By:  Priscilla Hayes

During May, 2015, the Garden State on Your Plate program of the Princeton School Gardens Cooperative hosted radish tastings on Wednesdays in the four Princeton K-5 schools.  As the school garden educator for two of those schools, I had the chance for some garden serendipity, connecting our school garden radishes to the radishes being experienced in the cafeteria.

It began with an email from Fran McManus with an idea for planting radish seeds in transparent containers, which would allow students to observe the development of both the root—the radish—and the leaves.  My sister had donated a bunch of transparent plastic gelato containers, which I had Community Park School third graders fill with potting mix.  Then, they carefully planted radish seeds adjacent to the outer walls so we could watch them grow.  As an added bonus, only half the seeds planted were purchased.  The other half were seeds saved by Kindergartners from the Community Park garden itself, and our goal was to see which would grow better.

By the time we planted the radishes in the jars, there were already Kindergarten radishes coming along nicely in one of the Community Park beds.

I checked both the jarred radishes and the garden bed radishes a couple days before the tasting.  The jarred radishes showed nary a sign of any radish root development, just some disappointing white roots.  The gardened radishes were reaching the point of woodiness, but they were lovely on the outside.  Some were developing flowers, which, as I learned from talking with the wonderful Trent House gardener Charlie Thomforde, would soon turn into sweet little radish pods—tasty if we got to them before they fully went to seed.

So, on radish tasting day, all the Kindergartners met out in the garden to pick three radishes—one for each class—to present to Joel Rosa, the Food Service Director of Nutri-Serve Food Management, the company that brings cafeteria lunches to Princeton students.  Why only three?  I explained to the kids that I wanted the rest to go to pods, which we could pick.

Forage Radish Pods
Forage Radish Pods

Joel Rosa was wonderful with the kids, and duly impressed when he learned that we were planning to eat radish pods soon.

A week or so later, radish tasting came to Littlebrook School, my other K-5 school.  I was so excited on that day to discover that our forage radishes, which fourth graders had planted as part of a cover crop mix (more on that another time), were going to lovely, delicate pods.

All three fourth grade teachers responded enthusiastically to my request to bring their classes out for a brief picking and tasting of pods.

I asked the students to answer three questions:

  • Did the pods taste like the radishes they had tasted earlier that day in the cafeteria?
  • If so (or even if not), were the pods milder or spicier than the radishes they had already tasted?
  • If not like radishes, what did the pods taste like?

Very few students—or I, for that matter—actually thought the pods tasted like radishes.  Everyone thought they were milder.  Many students thought the pod tasted like a mini green bean or a pea pod.  I can’t remember all the other answers.

The garden is nothing if not a place for serendipity!  The programs mentioned in this post provide great ways for students and their families to discover this for themselves.

The Garden State on Your Plate Program seeks to not only serve fresh, local foods to students but also to educate them about their sources and growing processes.  The program teaches students about the links between their food, their local environment and the larger world through creating new bonds between students, local farms/farmers and local chefs who prepare food for school tastings.  Learn more at http://www.psgcoop.org/garden-state-on-your-plate/.

Princeton School Gardens Cooperative focuses on hands-on methods of food and garden based education, not just in the classroom, but in the community.  Their goal is to teach every student to be an active participant and take responsibility to understand the impact of their eating habits and food choices on their surroundings.  For great links, articles and resources, visit http://www.psgcoop.org/.

Radiator Charlie Inspires an Artist to Create Seed Libraries

By:  Priscilla Hayes

It’s May 15, and I am finally completing a post about a wonderful session that took place a month ago.  On Tax Day, April 15, 2015, we welcomed Jeff Quattrone to the New Jersey Audubon Plainsboro Preserve facility to talk to community and school gardeners about seed saving.  Part of the reason this blog post is delayed is because it is prime school garden season and I have been in my three school gardens non-stop rather than at the computer.  The other reason is the breadth of the April 15 session and of the intense discussion there.  We covered some beginning seed saving tips complete with a demonstration of tomato seed saving.  We also learned about the careful research and steps Jeff took starting three “seed libraries” and some legal issues that have lately arisen, in which states seemed to have difficulty distinguishing between regulation needed for those selling seeds versus those exchanging seeds non-commercially.  After some struggle over how to convey all of this to you, I decided that on the latter, I would refer you to some online sources, including a New York Times article.  Please see the list of links at the end of this article and in the blog’s resources section.  Still, this post is longer than usual, and will be divided into sections.

THE POWER OF STORY

Seed saving involves stories of each of the seeds saved.  We can look at seeds themselves as stories, and Jeff’s getting to seed saving and seed libraries is a story in itself.  Jeff has a background and training as an artist, and he views all his ventures through an artistic lens.  When he saw that the print graphic arts work he had been doing was disappearing in favor of digital forms of representation, he began trying to “reinvent himself,” drawing always on his arts base.  In art school, he had learned both to challenge the prevailing notions of society and also to value stories as integral art in their own right.  All of this led him to start a blog that featured a daily story about a person who was doing something positive to change the world.  In the course of writing that blog, Jeff found himself coming back again and again to posts related to sustainability and gardening, and found himself especially drawn to the Ark of Taste, which is a project of Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity.  The Ark of Taste is described online as “a living catalog of delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction.  By identifying and championing these foods we keep them in production and on our plates.” https://www.slowfoodusa.org/ark-of-taste-in-the-usa

Jeff became passionate about the idea of keeping heirloom plants from becoming extinct, and had also developed an interest in promoting “food security,” i.e. making sure that people had enough good food to eat.  He started a second blog, Vanishing Feast, An Heirloom Solution, described as intended

to bridge the gap between society today and the history and tradition of heirloom gardening.  The focus will be on food sources that are endangered, and specifically on fruits and vegetables, and bring awareness to the tradition of seeds and or plants as family heirlooms.

SEED SAVING AND SEED LIBRARIES

Vanishing Feast gave Jeff new opportunities for his artistic outlets, celebrating the stories and variety of colors and textures that heirlooms offered.  But Jeff realized that that, too, was only a step in his reinvention journey.  He wanted to do more than blog about heirlooms—he wanted to actively work on saving them.  It became clear to him that the action most within his power and abilities was seed saving and the starting of seed libraries to foster the community that is built over the sharing of saved seeds.  Seed saving was also the best way for individuals to ensure food security, and Jeff felt especially lucky to be in New Jersey, where a three season harvest is possible.  More than that, there were stories about each of the heirlooms and about the varieties that had disappeared.  There were stories about the privatization of seeds, and the loss of biodiversity in food crops, while biodiversity was generally only thought of as a necessary element for wild plants and animals.

Since he had “always grown plants, not seeds,” one of his first tasks was to teach himself about pollination and seeds.  He needed to learn about how to keep the genes of heirloom varieties pure.  He quickly determined that “selfers,” i.e. those plants that pollinated themselves, would be good starter plants for beginning seed savers.  Success with these plants could give them confidence to go on to the more challenging seed saving with wind or insect pollinated plants.  He saw that seed saving could allow gardeners to develop seeds best adapted to their own local environment.

As another step in his research, Jeff looked to the models of seed banks already in place elsewhere.  He became inspired by seed companies or individuals who were breeding vegetables for local environments, like “Radiator Charlie,” who originated the “mortgage lifter” tomato, so called because it was so big that he was able to make enough money off its seeds to lift his mortgage.  He then looked to more formal seed saving operations, like Richmond Grows, (http://www.richmondgrowsseeds.org/)  a seed library in Richmond, California that had stepped up to take the lead in providing resources, tools and data collection both about and to seed libraries starting around the country.  Richmond Grows encourages beginning members to save seeds only from the “super easy” drawers of seeds that it makes available, also known as the selfers.  Jeff also looked at the more local model of Hudson Valley Seed Library (http://www.seedlibrary.org/), although the latter sells the seeds its members save, not simply facilitating a non-commercial exchange of seeds.

Jeff also thought long and hard about the envelopes to be used for seed sharing, and settled on coin saving envelopes as the perfect ones.  The sample that he gave seminar goers, that is pictured here, is 2 ¼ by 3 ½ inches.  As the photo shows, it contains the seed variety name, a short description of its backstory, the quantity enclosed, season, and seed source.

After a year of research, Jeff began approaching possible municipal venues and opened his first library in February 2014, followed by two more in 2014 and this year.  The seed libraries “check out” seeds to patrons, with a promise from them that they will return seeds at the end of the growing season.  While there are a variety of seeds available for checking out, the seeds which patrons are asked to return are those of open pollinated or heirloom plants, and are generally “selfers.”  “Selfers” are plants which can pollinate themselves, and thus can be expected to breed true to the parent plant without the need for hand pollination and protection of flowers from pollen brought by insect or wind.  Only experienced seed savers are invited to save more challenging varieties.

THE BEGINNING SEED SAVER

Jeff recommended that the beginning seed-saver start with “selfers,” tomatoes, peas, lettuce and beans, and then move on from successes with these to other plants.  In the April 15 session, he demonstrated removing seed containing pulp from a tomato and placing it into a jar of water, where it should remain for three days to ferment.  The seed would then be washed to remove seeds from the pulp over a small seed screen, which was basically a frame around screen material.

A seed saver who had gotten confidence with these first, easy plants could move on to more challenging items, such as squashes.  Jeff provided all of the seminar participants with a list of recommended distances between any insect pollinated plants that could breed with each other.  He also showed us silken bags to use to assure that no insects sneak in to bring unwanted pollen to a plant being raised for seeds.  These bags ranged from drawstring bags available for wedding favors, which could cover a single flower, to larger silken bags to cover a whole plant or significant part thereof.

Of course the seminar could only whet our appetite for starting seed saving, especially since we were attending it at a time when there were no seeds to be saved, but only planning to be done.  I can see that learning seed saving is a process, and am doubly glad that I have the continuing opportunity to learn slowly, through the season-long training at Duke Farms, the next session of which I will attend tomorrow.

LEGAL ISSUES LINKS

In the interests of making sure that farmers and others buying seeds are getting what they paid for, various states are regulating non-commercial seed savers as well.  While he is not a lawyer and it is important to come to your opinion, Jeff believed that New Jersey law is clear enough to support the non-commercial distinction and won’t lead to this imposition of excess regulation on seed savers.  Those interested in learning more about the topic can consult the following links.

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2014/12/28/us/ap-us-seed-struggle.html?_r=0

http://www.resilience.org/stories/2015-02-12/seed-libraries-fight-for-the-right-to-share

Community Seeds Program Series

By:  Priscilla Hayes

I love the way networks work in my life, connecting me to more of whatever I need to learn right now.  I had already set up the Seed Saving Program with Jeff Quattrone, (learn more in my previous blog post:  https://participatoryecology.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/seed-saving-so-old-and-so-new/) when I got an email from someone who had also been in touch with Jeff.  Shanyn Siegel, who had spent nearly five years managing the seed bank maintained by Seed Savers Exchange (http://www.seedsavers.org/) was about to start teaching a “season-long” program in which she would walk program participants through seed saving, step by step.  The introduction to the whole series, the first of five sessions, was scheduled for just a few days after I learned of it.  The whole series (http://dukefarms.org/en/Programs/CommunityGarden/Community-Garden-Courses/Community-Seeds-Program-Series/) was to take place at Duke Farms, in Hillsborough, NJ, and would serve any of Duke’s Community Gardeners (http://dukefarms.org/en/Programs/CommunityGarden/) who chose to sign up, as well as outsiders like me.

In my earlier seed-saving post, I mentioned that I had some of my young students save seeds from radish and lettuce plants that I had asked the garden parents not to pull out when the plants “bolted.”  In the fall, the seeds had dried nicely on the plants, but were still mostly inside the seed pods on the plants.  I had other classes save marigold, tithonia, Echinacea, and fennel seeds.

I had planned to try saving tomato seeds with some of the older students, but the fermentation method laid out in my seed saving book was intimidating.  I kept gathering tomatoes, and just leaving them places in bowls, thinking they needed to be beyond regular eating ripeness in order to save seeds.  As it turned out, this wasn’t necessary.  I left the bowls in various indoor locations, where they eventually became too much for my family to stand, so they all ended up spending the winter freezing on my front porch.

My tomato experience suggested I needed plenty of real hands-on instruction in order to really master seed saving.  I expected that whatever I learned with Shanyn would only build on and be reinforced by the later session with Mr. Quattrone.

Before I describe the wonderful first program with Shanyn, let me tell you something about her from the interview I did with her after the program.  Shanyn brought up the tomato intimidation problem without my even prompting her, confessing that her first attempt at saving tomato seeds failed miserably.  She assured me that saving tomato seeds was very easy.

“It’s such an easy process when someone shows it to you,” Shanyn said.  “But it seems intimidating.  One of the reasons for this season-long course is to give everyone an opportunity both to watch how this and other seed saving is done, and then actually get hands-on experience with it.”

Shanyn hopes that the season-long program will be a model to other such programs.

In the first session, we were given a refresher course in some basic botany, which is essential to understanding what it takes to save seeds that are true to the parent plant.  A genus contains closely related species, and closely related genera (plural of genus) comprise a family.  But it is the species level, which is below both the family and genus levels, where plants really share the most characteristics and can interbreed with each other.  This is most important for the process of seed saving.

As noted above, when you save seeds, you are looking to get seeds, which you can essentially think of as embryonic plants, with the same traits as the parent plant.  Seed saving gives you the power to select seeds from plants that most closely show a combination of traits that you appreciate.  However, you are definitely not looking to save seeds from a plant that may have accidentally interbred with another member of the species.  Such interbreeding would be the result of pollen from a different species member being carried to the plant you are using for seed saving.  This accidental interbreeding can happen with plants that are pollinated either by insects/animals or wind pollinated, but rarely with plants that are self-pollinated.

So, you have to keep plants that you don’t want interbreeding separated, and/or hand pollinate female flowers that are ready to receive pollen.  Then, you have to enclose the flowers you have hand pollinated so no other pollen sneaks in.  It isn’t even just other species members you may have planted that you have to watch out for, since many cultivated plants have “weedy” relatives that could be nearby your plants.

Shanyn also covered the important topic of knowing when to take seeds from a plant.

“Maturity for seed saving may not be the same as market maturity,” she said.  She explained that a watermelon that is ready to eat also has mature seeds, while a cucumber must be left to ripen beyond the point at which you would want to eat it for the seeds to mature.  As I had seen in my own lettuce and radish experience, you have to leave those plants in the garden beyond the point when they have bolted, until the seeds and the pods that enclose them are dry.

Even when a seed seems dry on the plant, it is important to allow it to dry further after harvest.  When dry, seeds should be stored in a cool dry place, like an unheated closet.  Completely dry seeds can be kept a sealed container in the freezer or refrigerator, but if you are not going to use all the frozen or refrigerated seeds at once, you need to let the sealed container acclimate to room temperature before opening.  This helps to avoid condensation in the container that will affect the quality of any seeds you are going to put back into storage.

I have to stop here with the session content, since I think the story of why and how Shanyn got into seed saving is equally fascinating.  After working on various organic farms, Shanyn went back to school to study horticulture and discovered an interest in plant pathology and why certain plants were especially suitable for disease resistance without being “genetically modified.”  Appropriate varieties of plants could be bred to be particularly well adapted to a region; the genetic resources for assuring this were the seeds, which could be saved from the most well-adapted plants.  Her work led her first to Seed Savers Exchange, and now to work teaching and promoting seed saving as a means of enabling more people to carry on its traditions.  She has been reaching out to those with seed libraries, such as Jeff Quattrone, hoping that seeds being saved can also be more widely shared and that people in local areas can begin saving and sharing their own seeds.

If you feel like I have barely scratched the surface of seed-saving with this post, you are right, and maybe you will want to sign up for the rest of the Duke Farms series.  I will promise that my next blog post will be on Jeff’s program, with its amazing two hour long animated discussion among the participants, and I will also be reviewing my favorite seed saving book at some point in the future.

Cycling Through “Chutes and Ladders”

By:  Priscilla Hayes

Okay, I will confess that my favorite of all the field trips I recommended on the “Democracy Bucket List” is a trip to a materials recovery facility, or a MRF for short.  If you are a conscientious home, business or school recycler, you are setting out just the right mix of bottles, cans, jars, other containers, paper and cardboard.  You are making sure you aren’t sending anything your town or county doesn’t accept.  But what you send out is still very much a mix, which, if left as is, is of no use to anyone who is actually trying to make something new out of them.  This becomes obvious when you consider what is in there.  Someone trying to make new aluminum cans or mold aluminum or steel parts for cars or planes couldn’t use a raw material that includes plastic, glass, maybe paper, and cardboard—not to mention lots of labels and glues and other things that are on the outside of things that get recycled.  There is a long process to sort all collected mixed recyclables into pure material streams.   This process starts at a facility called a Materials Recovery Facility, or MRF.

I always describe a MRF as a kind of giant “chutes and ladders” game, since it involves materials going up and down all sorts of conveyor belts, past blowers and magnets.  I have included a MRF on my “bucket list” of places all thoughtful citizens should visit, not least because it is so entertaining.  What you want at the end of the MRF process is a mostly a set of bales.

Bales of #1 Plastic
Bales of #1 Plastic

Each bale should be composed of castoffs which are uniformly of one material, such as number one plastic, polyethylene terapthalate or PET.  Or, you want uniform piles of things like glass, which tend to break rather than bale.

The sorting at a MRF gets more sophisticated all the time, but it isn’t idiot proof.  If someone puts a plastic bag in, that bag will surely get tangled up around the sorting machinery, and the whole sorting line will have to stop long enough to have the bag removed.  Since lots of “someones” put plastic bags in all the time, MRFs have to hire people to stand, all day, at the beginning of the first conveyor belt to do nothing but remove bags.  NO MRF I HAVE EVER HEARD OF ACCEPTS PLASTIC BAGS.  PLEASE TAKE THEM TO YOUR LOCAL SUPERMARKET, AND NEVER, NEVER PUT THEM IN YOUR RECYCLING BIN!

Beyond plastic bags, there are lots of things MRFs don’t accept.  Again, no MRF I ever heard of accepts window glass, broken dishes or even broken drinking glasses.  The glass in these items is incompatible with the “recyclable” glass found in bottles and jars; in particular, it has different levels of lead in it.  In my town, we are allowed to include clean aluminum foil in the mix of things we put out in our bins, and I really don’t remember ever seeing that before anywhere else, so I am still getting used to it.  SO DON’T PUT IT IN WITHOUT EXPLICIT INSTRUCTIONS!  It is important that you find out what is recyclable where you are, because when you add things to the mix that aren’t accepted, they can cause no end of problems, as plastic bags do.

All recycling instructions include a direction to remove all caps from bottles or jars, but this is something hardly anyone seems to pay attention to.  Let’s take soda bottles as an example:  lots of people drink part of a soda, carefully screw the top back on, and drop it into a recycling bin, thinking they have done their part.  But the MRF is designed for empty soda bottles, which are light, and can be moved by blowers onto the proper sorting line.

Capped Bottles Popping Out of a Bale
Capped Bottles Popping Out of a Bale

Those with liquid still trapped inside physically don’t act like bottles, and often end up simply getting discarded, because the sorting process just cannot handle them and will just kick them out.

It is important to remove the cap even from EMPTY BOTTLES, because as the capped bottle gets crushed during the baling process, the trapped air inside will make the bottle hard to flatten, and often such bottles start popping out the sides of bales, taking their neighbors with them.

Okay, maybe you can’t visit a MRF in person, so I have a couple of links for virtual tours.  For adults, try:

  • Good little short YouTube video on MRF (remember to check what your recycling program accepts—some of the materials you see here may not be acceptable locally): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CFE5tD1CCI
  • Longer YouTube video, with more detail on the sorting features in a MRF (including the optical sorting that more and more MRFs have), and the problems of sending the wrong materials or not preparing materials right: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jda_9_30-WU

Kids could check out the following:

  • I love this one because it talks about the crazy big items people put in their bins, and how those have to be sorted out at the start. Also, check out that plastic bag of recyclables being put into the bin at the start—it just flashes on the screen for a second.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2g2OHGSNBfs

And maybe soon, I’ll invent a MRF chutes and ladders game.

Democracy Bucket List

By:  Priscilla Hayes

I think that there should be a participatory democracy bucket list of trips every citizen has to take at least once so they begin to understand how our society and culture work within the context of the bigger and “real” world.  By real world, I don’t mean our financial system, which to me, at least, has always seemed to place value on things more derivative and uncertain than real—futures, predictions of stock values.  The real world is our planet, the world that includes us and all our human created systems, as well as all the natural resources and systems, which we and other organisms depend on for food, water, air, shelter—the basics for every living thing.

What’s on this bucket list?  Being the “trashy” person I am, the first tours I would recommend would be 1) a landfill, 2) a facility where recyclables are sorted (otherwise known as a Materials Recovery Facility or MRF, and the subject of an entire post to itself), 3) a sewerage plant, and 4) maybe a drinking water treatment plant.  This would lay bare the apparent Star Trek-like magic that whisks away our waste to somewhere where it will never trouble us again.  Hopefully, in particular, it would give the viewer the motivation to learn exactly how not to waste and what should be recycled, and, perhaps more importantly, the motivation to be consistent about both avoiding waste and recycling wherever they are—not just at home. MRF PICTURE_copy for bucket list

The sewerage plant and drinking water plant would hopefully impart a bit more respect for the system that delivers water straight into all of our buildings with little to no effort and labor on our part (except for those cases of bottled water), and just as easily, zips “wastewater,”  aka sewage, out and away.

What’s next?  Everyone should do some food system field trips.  Arrange to visit your local farm, and see what it takes to create the food that none of us could live without.  Luckily, in my part of the country, we are blessed by a number of local family farms that grow delicious produce and raise animals for meat on a scale that doesn’t seem to merit the word “factory” in a scornful way.  Some of these farms sell “agro-tourism” along with the produce, so you can take the family here to see some chickens, a few horses or cows. CORN PACKING_copy The fact that the farmer is providing you with some entertainment shouldn’t distract you from the serious business of farming, so just look a little closer.  Look at the crops pushing up through the earth, maybe try to time your visit to a time when some picking, either by hand, or with a machine is being done.  You could even ask the farmer, if you can find him or her free from chores, about the hours they keep and when was the last time they enjoyed a vacation.

Finally, I also think everyone should have to visit a prison.  During my first year of law school, my criminal law class took a field trip.  We visitors were afraid to look at these people in cages, either because they were scary or because it had the feel of a zoo, except there were people locked up.  Like a zoo, it will inspire mixed feelings about what has led to so many living things locked away.

Any of these visits can help inspire you to step back and think about how the choices we make for ourselves project onto the world around us even if we don’t realize it, and how we always have room to improve.