Since the dawn of industrialization, our Earth has faced substantial increases in the concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHG), an issue that ultimately results in global climate change. Minimizing the negative effects of greenhouse gases has become a significant concern, and has brought the mitigation proposals such as carbon sequestration and reforestation practices to the table.
Reduction of GHG emissions through sustainable agricultural practices and waste management has come to the forefront of many of these conversations. The practice of composting organic material, for example, reduces GHG emissions.
June 5 is World Environment Day today. This year the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has selected the theme “Think.Eat.Save,” an anti-food waste and food loss campaign that encourages us to reduce our “foodprint”. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), every year 1.3 billion tones of food are wasted. This is equivalent to the same amount produced in all of sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time, 1 in every 7 people in the world go to bed hungry and more than 20,000 children under the age of 5 die daily from hunger.
The UN’s choice of theme gave me some food for thought (forgive the pun) about what all of us, ordinary people, can do both to reduce our foodprint and our (carbon) footprint.
Waste to Food: Yard and vermi-composting as local solutions
You may recall my post about the community garden that my wife and I decided to lead three years ago in our church. We had no expertise in gardening, and we had never gardened before. We also decided to take a step towards sustainability efforts in our local church with one of our main goals this year being to reduce our organic matter and yard waste. We had no idea how to start; we are all ordinary people with rudimentary knowledge (at best) about how to do this in a practical sense.
Last year, however, we established great partnerships with local organizations to help us improve our efforts. As a result, we were able to install both a compost bin and a worm bin. As I said before, that was a big step for us in terms of sustainability efforts since none of us had the know-how for neither compost nor dealing with little creatures called worms. Our local partners helped us install the bin in the appropriate spot, near the garden, with enough sunlight as shown in the picture below:
I always thought composting was just throwing your food scraps in the back and eventually it would turn into good dirt. An educational component was obviously in order. We had some capacity building and training with how to compost, what kind of materials, appropriate ratio of materials, etc. I learned that the compost process is mainly based on materials with a ratio of carbon and nitrogen. Brown materials, such as fallen leaves and branches, are thought as “carbon rich”. We collected and used fallen branches as part of our carbon ratio and some organic soil to complement it.
Green materials are thought as “nitrogen rich”. For the green material, we planted Heirloom winter rye in our raised beds right after our last harvest. I learned that planting this as a “cover crop” adds fertility to soil by contributing organic matter. We used it as the green part of the compost as we cut them off the bed when the growing season came in early May.
We also added some fallen tree branches and we used the acceptable carbon to nitrogen ratio between the range 20:1 – 40:1 to start our compost pile as you can see on the pictures below:
After each layer, we watered and came up with our first pile of compost shown on our picture below:
The second project we’ve decided to implement was a worm bin. What a challenge! But it’s been so rewarding to see those little amazing creatures moving around. We received a grant through our partner organizations to get the worm bin installed near our community garden. Once we got the grant approved, there was an educational piece with our main volunteers and leaders as below:
We had a few challenges with the worm bin as you might expect. First, we needed a place that got sun exposure in the winter to keep the worms freezing since the bin is outside. We also needed volunteers to feed them and open the bin during the winter to get some sunlight. We forgot to do this process a few times and we were worried we were going to open up a bin full of dead, stinky worms. However, in the beginning of this growing season we saw the worms under the carpet of the worm bin, happy as worms, I suppose. They are very resilient creatures, thank God and they survived our naïveté.
With the worm bin installed we are able to use our kitchen waste to feed the worms. During this growing season, we ‘ve been already able to use the “worm compost” as a bedding plant mix with the soil. That ‘s been exciting to use something that we didn’t even know how to deal with few months ago.
What great practical ways to mitigate greenhouse gases and food waste into our planet. Just a few practical things that we never thought would be possible with our budget and knowledge base. But God provides us with all the necessary resources, be it time, money, people, or knowledge. One of the greatest moments in this whole process was to see that we can use worms to reduce our kitchen waste and that results in something that can be used to produce food for us again. When I do it, I also feel that I am doing my part in reducing GHG emissions and my foodprint.
For more information about organic and vermi-composting: