Public Comment

Commentary: An Update on Nutrition, Gardens and Compost

By Beebo Turman
Friday March 07, 2008

March is “National Nutrition Month” in our schools. The city of Berkeley has long been committed to fitness and nutrition education as chronic disease prevention, and in September the council members kicked off a nine-month campaign to engage the community with their goals, calling it “Be Fit Berkeley.” For the past six years a group of gardeners, Farmers’ Market people, school nutrition advocates, and city staff have met to coordinate various nutrition-education activities. March 8, this Saturday, will be “Be Fit Berkeley Day!” with health screening activities at the Farmers’ Market. Later this month there will be cooking demonstrations at the Tuesday Markets with Kirk Lumpkin, as well as a special Berkeley High School lunch event on March 20th. Certain schools with grants from “Network for a Healthy California” will have events at their schools; for instance Malcolm X will have a Health Fair, LeConte will have a Spring Fair, and there will be mini-farmers’ markets at John Muir, Emerson, and Rosa Parks. Since I am a garden advocate (I run the “Berkeley Community Gardening Collaborative”) I want to encourage people to grow their own vegetables, and one way to help gardeners out is to give away city compost on Sat. March 29 at the Farmers’ Market (bring two buckets or one large bag). 

Where does this compost come from, and why are we giving it away? It comes from our green carts. Grover Landscaping Company in Modesto, takes our plant debris (and now our kitchen scraps), and grinds it, screens it, piles it in long windrows, turns it every three days, gives it a sprinkling of water, and lets the sun “cook” it into rich, fine compost in ten weeks. Ninety percent is sold to farms and ranches in the central valley, and 10 percent is given back to Berkeley to be used by the Parks Department and the school and community gardens. 

Since last September the city has begun to collect food scraps from households, in their green debris carts. People have been encouraged to put such vegetable matter as orange peels, onion skins, stale bread, even meat bones, and kitchen papers (paper towels and paper napkins) with their garden greens for pick-up once a week. Berkeley residents started participating immediately, and are already among the best in the County. As you might expect, the collection of green waste has gone up dramatically from 650 tons per month last year to 900 tons per month since the weekly program started. On average, the city is collecting over 250 tons per month more than it was six months ago, or a 40 percent increase in residential organics. Conversely, the amount of trash that the city picks up in our grey carts has gone down. On average, the city is collecting over 170 tons per month less than it did 6 months ago. When I take my cart out to the street for collection I am amazed to see only half of it filled with trash, because I have either recycled or composted so much that used to go in my cart! Every pound of food waste you compost instead of landfill reduces greenhouse gas emissions. 

We, people in the Bay Area, are very conscious of the global warming trend, and all of us try to do our part in the greening of our city, our state, and our country. It can seem overwhelming at times. Just as it can seem rather daunting to follow the current trends in nutrition advice. Michael Pollan has given us a short sentence which can help us remember what is important: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” We can buy our foods at the Farmers’ Market or other stores that have fresh, local, and mostly organic items. But an even more direct way to ensure that your family has fresh vegetables is to grow your own! And at the end of this month, come to pick up your free compost at the Farmers’ Market, to get your garden off to a great start. 


Beebo Turman is a Berkeley resident.