Lisa Bjerke’s Senior Project

Composting is about people. It is human-facilitated decomposition that benefits us. You can think of composting as farming, but one step down in the chain. Composters use nature’s decomposition process to create soil suitable to grow food just as farmers use and manipulate nature’s process of growth to benefit us through the production of food. Vegetation will grow with or without farmers, and decomposition will happen with or without compost piles. It is up to us to make sure we benefit from the processes of nature.

 Compost is therefore not at all about waste. Compost is about resources: it is about utilizing decomposition. We have turned the concept upside down when we think that composting is about reducing our negative impact on the planet when it is actually about using the planet’s resources to our benefit.

 The current cultural concept of compost is an example of how we try to fit nature into our lives.  This backwards way of looking at our relationship with the natural world can manifest itself through absurd efforts to think about composting as “reducing food waste.”  This mantra to reduce food “waste” comes from our efforts to not harm nature by minimizing our use of it, when we actually should try to understand how to live within nature. What would happen if we adopted nature’s model that nothing is ever wasted—therefore, that there is no such thing as food waste?  Human Ecology is putting humans back into nature and composting is one active way to practice Human Ecology.

Under our feet is an unseen but absolutely essential universe of life. In one spoonful of soil there are six hundred million bacteria and one million different fungi. In one cubic meter of earth there are hundreds of worms and thousands of insects. This universe under our feet creates the soil essential to life on earth, soil that provides a readily available carbon source on which all life relies.  Unlike petroleum that takes eons to replenish and is difficult to extract, this black gold is easily accessible and renewable, as long as we humans make a conscious effort to help nature continue this elegant cycle.

I hope that the COA community can incorporate composting into our institutional culture.  That it becomes something as incorporated into our daily routines as breathing in oxygen and breathing out CO2. That it becomes something as natural as eating food. I hope this document in your hand will be useful tool for you to envision a COA functioning within nature, and not on nature. I hope this case study will make you ask more questions about human behavior, how we act, and how the world around us functions.

Compost is one entry point to the larger question of humans’ role within nature. Compost frames the question regarding humans’ roles in the nutrient and carbon cycle of life to be about food waste, but it is also about the landscape that we live in and effect. In my senior project I try to consider this broader consideration by incorporating all the organic landscape material on campus, and at times considering COA’s farms: Beech Hill Farm and Peggy Rockefeller Farm.  Over all, this report is about exploring how to think about human behavior in the context of organic resource management, and even human ecology. Using praxis to look at what has been done, the impact, and what we envision the future to be, I hope this case study will be a useful tool for COA to consider and engage with the many resources and needs that we have. 

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