Climate Local Now: Compost: It’s Not Just Dirt

by Mark Haubner

If you want to annoy a sailor, call the deck a “floor” and the line a “rope”—and don’t be surprised if they stuff you through that little round window in the wall. The same goes for a farmer friend of mine. I was using a pitchfork (SPADEfork!) and digging in the dirt (SOIL!) and was amazed at how loose the soil was around the plants. This wasn’t the pale hardpan and loamy sand I had in my backyard, but dark, sweet-smelling humus filled with centipedes and earthworms. If I’d known there were more than a billion microbes, mycorrhizae, fungus and more in the handful I held up to my nose, I might not have inhaled.

What’s Happening?

Topsoil is disappearing at an alarming rate. Drought, overgrazing, mechanical farming methods, and other harsh practices require greater inputs of fertilizer, herbicides, fungicides, etc. We now depend on these harmful, unsustainable practices. Estimates run between 16 and 60 growing seasons of topsoil remain in the U.S. My grandson will not be happy.

In the not-enough-thousands of acres of productive farmland and woodlands in the Peconic Bioregion, we have a great opportunity to revitalize our ailing soils with a single amendment: food scraps.

The Facts

Project Drawdown—the world’s leading resource for climate solutions—has mapped, measured, and modeled 93 solutions that could reverse global warming if brought to scale. Silvopasture #11, Tree Plantations on Degraded Land #13, Perennial Staple Crops #17, Tree Intercropping #20, Abandoned Farmland Restoration #25, and Compost #78 are all solutions that involve making our soils healthier. Altogether, 32 solutions surrounding food, agriculture, land use, and land as a carbon sink directly depend on regenerating soil.  Project Drawdown provides us with high-impact actions and details their many benefits. For example, Compost includes retaining water to slow the flow and recharge the aquifer, preventing runoff onto our roads, reducing the amount of irrigation required, and retaining nutrients and moisture that would otherwise be wasted.

Prices at the gasoline pumps are in the stratosphere. Diesel-fueled vehicles tack on another 25 percent to your bill. Consider the millions of miles our (nonlocal) food travels every day, and the skyrocketing grocery bills start to make sense.

Imagine if we grew better, more nutrient-rich food. Our Peconic Bioregion (the five towns of the East End) would become more self-reliant in production, more resilient in the face of supply chain disruptions, and offer a healthier, mutually beneficial circular food economy to our community. 

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Sound familiar? It was exactly one year ago when we featured in Climate Local Now the idea that food scraps are not ‘waste’ but rather a ‘resource.’ If we work together at various levels we can achieve the Mission we’ve outlined, enjoying the many economic, health, environmental, and food security benefits:

To divert 100 percent of the food scraps generated in all sectors (Residential, Commercial, Institutional, Governance) from the solid waste stream in the Peconic Bioregion and bring it right back into our soil—your yard, your neighborhood, your municipality, your businesses.

That means saving our money, soils, and groundwater by 1) consuming food (not wasting it), and 2) making compost from food waste—in backyards, community gardens, farms, and towns.  There are gigantic bales of organic compost traveling from Maine and Ohio to our local farms. It’s time to be bold: we must create high-quality, saleable organic compost to use on our own properties, parks, and farms. Sounds like a business-public-private partnership.  Are you ready for the challenge?

What If We Started Doing This On Our Own?

Nobody likes being told what to do. It’s only human to crave independence and be left alone to make adult decisions. Here is our opportunity to do something without being told. It’s a simple matter of just scraping our plates into a countertop pail and transferring the scraps to a green bin and rolling it to the curb; or taking the scraps to a compost pile in the backyard; or bringing them to a central location where a community garden is in need of compost. We’ve got dozens of options in this initiative—it’s not a one-size-fits-all.

After working with several groups, we have created a coalition consisting of partners in the food scraps effort over the last 3 years: Drawdown East End, the North Fork Environmental Council, the Town of Riverhead’s Environmental Advisory Committee and its Engineering Department including Parks & Recreation, 10 Civic Associations, Cornell Cooperative Extension, NOFA-NY and the Sustainability Teams of each of the five East End towns.

It Takes A Region

150,000 people in 60,000 households, hundreds of restaurants, dozens of cafeterias, and we can start to view 120 tons a day of ‘food waste’ as a ‘food scrap organic resource.’ With ingenuity and hard work, we can add gold to our soils—because it’s not just dirt.


Mark Haubner has been recycling newspaper since 1965, and not seeing his example being followed by everyone on the planet, started learning Science Communication in earnest about six years ago. He got a Certificate in Sustainability and Behavior Change from the University of California at San Diego (the daily commute was grueling) and now writes Community Based Social Marketing programs for the various nonprofits with which he is involved.

Climate Local Now is a partnership between the East End Beacon and Drawdown East End, whose mission is to inspire local solutions to reverse global warming. |  DrawdownEastEnd.org

East End Beacon

The East End Beacon is your guide to social and environmental issues, arts & culture on the East End of Long Island.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Please prove you're human: