A few days ago I had the pleasure of taking three Italian men from Parma to view some community gardens and a school garden. They were in Berkeley to see what the Bay Area does with its trash, as they are opposing their city council’s desires to build a large incinerator. As fathers of small children, they are concerned about their health, as well as the health of the planet. They were impressed to see our recycling efforts, and learned that our garden trimmings and food scraps are recycled into rich compost, which is then dug into gardens all across town. Although the United States has only 23 incinerators left still working (and none has been built in the past 15 years), Italy has 50 incinerators, and 50 more proposed! Italians have just begun to organize to fight the incinerator owners and the Mafia, who run all the trash collections in Sicily and much of the rest of Italy.
Why does Berkeley have the Recycling Center and not an incinerator? For decades, trash was deposited in the landfill just north of the Marina. I remember our friend, Charles O’Laughlin, driving a bulldozer in 1979, pushing around trash to form sloping, rolling hills. Anything that could be recycled was sorted by volunteers, who were the beginning of the Urban Ore group, which is still serving us well in its facility near Ashby Ave.
In 1984, Berkeley residents voted down the proposal to build a large incinerator to handle our trash, in favor of a major Recycling Center, and in 1973, the Ecology Center started a curbside-recycling-pickup program, the first in the nation. By 1991 the landfill was completely sealed and vented for methane gas; soon afterward, the Cesar Chavez Park was opened to the public and their dogs! Italy is home to the Slow Food Movement, but my friends from Parma were amazed and excited about what they saw happening in the waste/recycling/compost programs in our city and state. Most Italians want to burn their trash in incinerators for the minimal energy. My friends were delighted to hear that our new President has come out publicly for “zero waste.”
There will be a Compost-Giveaway at the Farmers’ Market on Saturday, March 28, from 9 a.m. to 3p.m. Bring two buckets or one large trash bag to shovel your compost into. Dig it into your garden! The Berkeley Community Gardening Collaborative delivers this city compost to any school or community garden that requests it, in a rented dump truck, once a month.
All of our nine community gardens have the maximum number of gardeners, and each one has a long waiting list of 20 people or more. (The Gardening Collaborative is working with Rails to Trails Conservancy, Berkeley Partners for Parks, and the city of Berkeley to develop the Sante Fe right-of-way into paths and community gardens or other green spaces.)
As I write this article, President Obama has just announced that they are breaking ground today for a vegetable garden on the White House lawn: how terrific is that! Families are finding the cost of food going up, and it is more enjoyable and healthy to grow your own vegetables and fruits. In interviews I have made recently of community garden plot owners, I have found a wide range of plants grown, and two gardeners said their health problems were greatly helped by being in the garden among friends and by eating the organic vegetables they grew.
Julia Child used to say “Bon appetit!” but we in Berkeley like to also say “Happy gardening!”
Beebo Turman is a Berkeley resident.