If you know me, you know I don’t want to go to Brooklyn unless there’s any possible way I can get around it. But this sustainability thing is dragging me out there more often than expected. I guess I can’t be mad about it; Brooklyn has some great community gardens and learning sites, such as the Red Hook Community Farm. And that’s what drew me out this past weekend. A fellow gardener at my community garden heard about their compost operation that utilizes forced air and decided we should go out there to learn about it. So we went.
The composting process often starts in their tumblers. Residents and volunteers can drop food scraps into the bins, and add browns (organic matter that helps balance out the food waste) in the form of the waste produced from roasting coffee beans. Then, they can give the tumblers a whirl to mix everything up.
Once the food waste has a chance to break down a bit, it is transferred to a windrow.
A windrow is basically a mountain of compost covered with organic matter like wood chips.
The wood chips keep moisture inside the windrow and keep out rats and other pests, who might otherwise try to feast on the rotting food scraps.
Underneath the windrow runs a pipe that pushes air into the compost pile. All healthy compost systems need air, and this end is often achieved by manually turning the compost. A forced air compost system, however, does not need to be turned often.
The pipe can be switched on and off as needed.
I’ve seen forced air composting systems before at the Earth Matter farm on Governors Island, but the one at the Red Hook site is super impressive. Everything is controlled from this cute shack and powered with solar energy.
This site was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. People talk about the wind and the water, but at Red Hook Community Farm, they talk about the salt. The saltwater destroyed their worm bins. The saltwater ruined the soil; it took them a couple years to get it alright again. These solar panels were installed after Hurricane Sandy and are built to withstand another storm.
There’s also a modest wind turbine. If it looks small, that’s because it is. But because it was designed to be installed on a yacht, it’s also virtually hurricane-proof and won’t be ruined by saltwater .
Anyway, there was a lot to take in on this visit. They process a lot of compost here and I can’t even remember if they said how much it was. (There was a lot of information and I can’t say I successfully retained all of it.)
Not only does the NYC Compost Project keep food waste out of the landfill but it also distributes finished composts to local farms to help New Yorkers shorten the food chain and promote sustainable agriculture here at home.