Compost Fair is Educational, Entertaining

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Tompkins Weekly          4-18-16

By George Cook

As the world is waking up to the benefits of sustainable living, people are redefining abundance. Instead of basing happiness on consumption, this new perspective embraces contribution. Much of this new awareness comes from understanding the impact of consumption on a healthy environment. For example, it can take 500 years for soil to build up an inch of topsoil, rich with microorganisms and nutrients. Our consumer lifestyles are causing the earth to lose five times more soil than is being made. In contrast, composting contributes to soils, reduces garbage in landfills and returns organic carbon and nutrients to the environment.

There are many ways that we can all participate in sustainable living. One of the easiest and most beneficial is composting. It’s a simple practice that requires minimal investment. Instead of wasting the biological nutrients by putting them in a landfill, composting turns them into valuable soil that benefits your garden and the planet. The practice can remove atmospheric carbon through soil carbon sequestration, directly through carbon in compost and indirectly through enhanced plant growth. The benefits are two-fold: rebuilding soil at the same time as helping to mitigate climate change. Composting is a great way to make a personal, local contribution to sustainable living.


Master Composters Lisa Fernandez and Jody Schwan created Compost Theater and have been performing for nearly 20 years. They will be among those performing at this year’s Compost Fair.

In nature, nothing is wasted. Composting involves the natural decomposition of organic matter; it turns the nutrients present in your organic plant/food wastes into valuable rich brown matter. Beneficial, naturally occurring microorganisms are fed by your wastes, oxygen and water. By breaking down your wastes, composting makes the nutrients they contain bio-available. You can mix compost into your garden to grow healthy vegetables or beautiful flowers, or use it as a rich amendment for a healthier lawn.

By practicing composting, you contribute to sustainability in many ways. In addition to producing richer soils, composting helps prevent water pollution by keeping pollutants from entering runoff or seeping into groundwater. A layer of compost over the soil stops erosion and prevents contaminants such as pesticides and herbicides from spreading.

The microorganisms in compost are amazing. They also help break down pollutants, such as inorganic residues from fertilizers or chemical preservatives. By composting you prevent these contaminants from entering the soil to be absorbed by plants or ending up in groundwater runoff. Composting results in cleaner water for everyone.

By composting you’ll be making a real contribution to sustainability, and doing so is easy and inexpensive. Every fall the trees in your yard and neighborhood provide one of the ingredients. The dried leaves are carbon-rich, and provide the “browns” for your compost pile. Your food scraps and lawn trimmings provide the nitrogen rich “greens.” By layering these ingredients you’ll create space for oxygen. Add water if necessary and let the microorganisms do their work.

There are social benefits to composting too. Compost helps communities thrive with greener gardens and group activities. Planning, organizing and maintaining a community compost site fosters ecological responsibility. By participating, everyone can contribute to socially-just food production systems. Neighborhoods can reduce the garbage they generate, with both economic and environmental benefits.

Just after the celebrations of Earth Day, Cornell Cooperative Extension is having its annual Compost Fair on Sunday, April 24, at 615 Willow Avenue in Ithaca from noon to 4 p.m. This year’s fair will be held in conjunction with the 4-H Duck Race. Admission is free to both events and open to the public.

There will be information, with Master Composters present to answer your questions and give demonstrations of beginning and advanced compost techniques. There will also be continuous tours of our demonstration site, live music and activities for kids. A variety of partner organizations and sustainability groups will be joining us. All attendees are eligible to win compost prizes. Compost bins (Earth Machines, welded wire cylinder and worm compost bins) will be for sale while supplies last.

More information about the Compost Fair can be found at

George Cook is a Master Composter in-training and a student of sustainable design through the Minneapolis College of Art & Design. He lives in Trumansburg.

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