Learn to Compost! Morning Seminar Summary

Esmesha Campbell

Compost-binThe July 11 Composting Seminar was a major success! Entitled “Learn to Compost! Morning Seminar,” the information session was held at an eco-friendly store/restaurant called A Movable Feast and was sponsored by Texas Campaign for the Environment Fund. There were about thirty attendees, most of whom were seasoned composters over the age of 50. The session was also headed by three keynote speakers including Jared McNabb, founder of the vermicomposting company called The Mighty Worm, Dr. John Ferguson of Nature’s Way Resources and composting enthusiast Daniela Ochoa Gonzalez of Solurso Sustainable Urban Solutions. My role throughout the seminar was to basically make note of the studies and statistics presented while also acting as a co-host alongside Texas Campaign for the Environment Program Director Melanie Scruggs. Each speaker spoke for about thirty minutes each on their designated fields of composting expertise.

Jared McNabb enlightened the audience about vermicomposting (the composting technique involving the addition of various types of worms, especially red wigglers) and his business experience in working alongside institutions, parks and hospitals while using nitrogen rich methods to restore their landscapes. His presentation also shed light on how important the recycling of food and trash waste can be to the growth of the Houston metropolitan area. Jared also emphasized the significance of reusing wastes to help cultivate other forms of compost including leaf mould. His key takeaway points were to 1) Take what you need, 2) Compost! Compost! Compost! and 3) Return it to the earth. This young composter’s spirit was the highlight of his presentation and his unwavering willingness to answer even the most complex questions proved that he did, in fact, house a deep passion for both composting and preserving the condition of our environment.

Dr. John Ferguson was the second speaker and his oration explored the market barriers for composters. Dr. Ferguson’s presentation touched on different perspectives and allowed attendees to take a quick glimpse into some of the regulations and policies that hinder the progress of education about the importance of composting. Some of the more controversial barriers include, but are not limited to, the lack of clarity within Texas Commission for Environmental Quality (TCEQ) regulation interpretations, bad operators and unregulated products, the lack of collection services by waste companies and the immense deficiency of education/knowledge about the general benefits of composting. Ferguson’s teachings broadened my views on composting from the public administration/environmental policy perspective. With so many law-makers pushing against the implementation of policies that could potentially encourage the method of composting as opposed to chemical fertilizing, the possibility of introducing it as a waste alternative such as recycling would seem to be more feasible. All in all, Dr. Ferguson’s talk was filled with jaw-dropping statistics, memorable photos and well-founded opinions. It also focused attention to the true views of our state’s regulatory bodies, which have great potential to encourage the composting sector.

The final speaker was compost enthusiast Daniela Ochoa Gonzalez. Gonzalez concentrated on the need of composting training in elementary schools throughout the city of Houston. With a presentation coined “Hope Beyond Hype for School Composting,” she also broke down the school hierarchy in which composting could be adequately received within the education system. The hierarchy starts with leadership and branches into student participation, custodians, teachers and administrative staff and, finally, parents. Gonzalez emphasized that the full hierarchy must be respected and executed in order to successfully conquer the stigma of rejecting the idea of composting in the school system. After discussing each point of the hierarchy, Gonzalez also urged the compost seminar attendees to research and support an organization called the Urban School Food Alliance. The Urban School Food Alliance uses purchasing power and the ability to negotiate with vendors to bring compostable and biodegradable materials to cafeterias and school lunches; therefore, when it is time for the “trash” to be disposed of, the waste will be more useful than harmful.

Each speaker presented valuable and important information within each of their sessions. Not only did I learn a great deal about composting, but I also internalized a few ideals of my own when it comes to the implementation of governmental policies. In my opinion, there seems to be a great deal of uncertainty and fear around composting from the policy perspective. For our lawmakers, perhaps, fear of the unknown and fear of the potential financial and environmental effects of composting may raise more than a few eyebrows. Instead of the Texas legislature and local policy makers opening their minds to a positive environmental alternative, there is a response to maintain regulations the way they know how and continue throwing food waste into landfills. With the steady increase in landfills across Houston, composting may be the best bet that ensures our city’s prosperity, preservation and well-being in the years to come.

Esmesha_CampbellINTERNEsmesha Campbell is a staff writer for Fashion Bomb Daily, MPA Candidate through Texas Southern University in the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs, and summer intern at Texas Campaign for the Environment.