Tuesday, June 16, 2009
FOLLOW-UP ON NUTRIENT RECYCLING
Several of you all have asked us questions about what we wrote the week before last about nutrient cycles and returning nutrients to farmland. We probably should have been clearer about some of the first steps that can be taken. Much of nutrient recycling is logistically very complicated, and while we can suggest a few initial steps, what we want most of all is to encourage you first to think in organic terms about the problem and then to work with us and other farmers in discussing and developing solutions in the margins of the mainstream economy. We're living in a miserably under-developed stone age of nutrient recycling, so the work we all have to do will be the work of pioneers.
One thing we said last time that may have needed further explanation was our use of the word "organic." We definitely didn't mean to suggest that food scraps, for example, that came from conventional farms shouldn't be composted or included in nutrient cycles. We believe that anything that is or was or comes from a plant or animal (from any living organism) ideally belongs in a complete nutrient cycle. When we talk about "organic nutrient sources," we're talking about the nutrient-containing residues of living organisms. The short-term (unsustainable) alternative to those residues is chemical fertilizers, and that's the only contrast we meant to make.
Some of you all asked us whether we thought specific wastes would be good nutrient sources for our farm, whether we'd like to have food scraps or yard wastes, for instance. Food scraps and yard wastes are potentially good starting points, but the chief trouble with such things is that they're mostly water and air, and it doesn't make sense to spend energy transporting water and air. In order to begin to make real progress recycling nutrients from food scraps or yard wastes, those nutrients would need to be concentrated, presumably by rotting down as compost, before any extra effort is made to transport them out of the city to the farm. A fanciful solution would be for us to build or purchase a composting container at the farmers' market location that you all could dump your surplus food scraps into when you come to the market each week. Realistically, that's probably too challenging an idea for the city and the owners and organizers of the farmers' market, which leaves us looking for ways to help you compost wastes at your own homes. If this is all starting to sound overwhelming, then perhaps you're beginning to appreciate how much work we really have to do to escape our mainstream economy of wastefulness.
So what first steps can we suggest? Eggshells are a nutrient-dense leftover that might easily be returned to the farm. Left in an open container they will shortly dry out, after which they can be crushed. (In a sealed container they'll get nasty.) We could quite feasibly collect at the farmers' market all the eggshells all of our customers could bring us each week. And if you do have the means or the motivation to compost food scraps and/or yard wastes, we can definitely find ways to collect compost from you, even by the truckload if it were to ever get to that point. And if you're ever coming to the farm, we will gladly work with you to properly recycle *any* organic nutrient sources you'd like to bring to the farm. Meanwhile, please continue to seek new and better solutions with us.