Get Down to Earth with Master Composters

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Tompkins Weekly        4-10-17

By Lisbet Rattenborg and Shweta Dharlwal

With the help of worms, leaves, microscopic organisms and a little care, anyone can learn to turn food scraps and lawn waste into high quality garden soil.

That’s the guiding philosophy behind this year’s Compost Fair, presented by Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Master Composters. While 3,400 rubber ducks bob down the Cascadilla Gorge Trail as part of the 4-H Duck Race, an equal quantity of compost worms will be wiggling around waiting to be adopted by members of the public at this year’s Compost Fair. Worm bins, Earth Machines, DIY compost bins, and Japanese bokashi fermentation are just a few of the compost techniques that will be demonstrated at Cooperative Extension from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 23. The fair will be largely organized by Master Composter volunteers, people from all backgrounds who are committed to building community composting skills.

Master Composters demonstrate backyard composting at a past Compost Fair. Photo provided.

Composters’ individual motivations for immersing themselves in the complex world of microbial ecology and rotting leftovers might vary, however all are motivated by the ecological benefits of recycling food waste. Some composters, such as Don Smith (MC Class of 2017), are interested in composting to enrich their farm businesses. Don hopes to produce quality compost for use on his cut flower farm in Enfield.

Others, like Carol who has lived in large cities all her life, are eager to learn how to compost leftovers in their apartment using ‘stealth’ techniques that won’t alert neighbors or landlords to the presence of decomposing food. Master Composter Jay Smith, from the Class of 2016, summarizes the importance of compost education, stating that composting is “an important part of our overall ecological sustainability effort that must be made if we are going to prevent ecological disasters. We need to integrate compost into our own food cycle – from producing it, consuming it, disposing of waste, and returning it to soil. People need to know about this stuff.”

One reason it is so important to compost food waste properly is that home compost bins that are not managed properly can start to rot and smell as they emit methane and attract wild animals. Food that is not carefully composted using a mix of water, oxygen, nitrogen and carbon, produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Master composters work to empower everyday people to compost in a way that benefits the environment, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and produces beautiful garden soil. By stepping up and ‘digging in’ composters close the nutrient cycle; uneaten food becomes a resource we can use to produce even more food.

While the driving goals behind the Compost Fair can be quite serious, the event itself will be light, fun and family-friendly. Rot ‘n Roll, a local four-person Master Composter band, will be performing their repertoire of compost-themed music. All attendees may enter a raffle to win free yoga classes, books and garden tools from supportive local businesses. Toddlers and senior citizens alike will be welcomed to engage in hands-on activities, ranging from face painting and crafts to viewing the decomposing organisms (the DOers!) through the lenses of Cornell microscopes.

Composters of all skill levels are invited to come learn something new and nerd out with compost enthusiasts. All who come to the Fair will leave with the resources they need to kickstart or rejuvenate their home compost bin. Farmers, students, apartment dwellers and everyone in between are encouraged to get down to earth and learn new compost techniques at the upcoming Compost Fair. Let’s work together to compost our way to a more sustainable future. See you on the 23rd at the Fair!

Lisbet Rattenborg and Shweta Dhariwal are Master Composters in-training at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County. The Master Composter Program is sponsored by the Tompkins County Department of Recycling and Materials Management.

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