Green Teens Turn To Composting

Allan Appel PhotoNina Javier is already selling a carrot-based body scrub that’s delicious enough to eat.

Jahlil Moses is still in the research phase deciding whether to turn the sage and mint he’s growing into an oil or a paste as a basis for fashioning his own line of incense.

The two high school-aged environmental-minded gardeners have been growing their produce and their start-up business ideas this summer at New Haven Land Trust’s Grand Acres Greenhouse site. Now they will be able to create a rich compost to grow their products on their own.

The result: saving money as well as having enough left over to be the basis of yet another business.

The green teen entrepreneurs are part of a team building aerating composters at a community garden.

Their work, part of the New Haven Land Trust’s Growing Entrepreneurship Program, was on full display Thursday morning. Eight of the 13 New Haven high-schoolers in the program constructed three cedar-wood solar-powered aerating composters on the Trust’s Winchester Garden site at Winchestesr Avenue and Webster Street near the Farmington Canal trail.

Funded primarily by a $10,000 grant from the RecycleCT Foundation, the New Haven Land Trust partnered with Domingo Medina’s Peels & Wheels to build the three solar-powered aerators, which create high-quality compost from a combination of leaves, weeds, wood chips, and organic kitchen scraps.

On Thursday morning, the high schoolers were busy with hammers, electric drills, levels, and other tools building what for all of them was a new contraption, Domingo Medina’s design for composters powered by the sun that will turn any animal or plant based scrap into a rich compost.

Medina has about 100 customers for his community composting enterprise. In four years he has collected about 200,000 pounds of kitchen scraps from customers around town. His aerators have turned that into compost that he returns to the customers or provides to community garden organizations like New Haven Land Trust or sells to individual gardeners.

The students in the Trust’s innovative young entrepreneur program have their side businesses; they receive commissions as well for building raised beds and doing other projects for the Trust’s private customers. The building of the composters offers up new business opportunities for them to explore while doing a lot of good for the air, the soil, while gaining all kinds of invaluable experience from carpentry to teamwork.

“My dad is a carpenter, so it runs in the family,” said Sharric James. However, this is the first time he’s built an composting aerator.

Medina was helping supervise the work, which was progressing nicely under a 90-degree sun. James and the others had used two-inch screws, as opposed to four-inch ones, to secure the side cedar boards of the composters to their four pine corner posts.

Sharric substituted the four-inch ones and proceeded, with his colleagues, to make a tighter fit.

It’s important to keep the air out of the upper levels, he explained, so that air, blown by the solar-powered fan, can enter from underneath, where a PVC pipe spreads it up, through holes, so that the bacteria, which do the breaking down of the organic matter, can happily do their thing while staying alive.

Another of the students, Common Ground High school junior Jahlil Moses, said he liked the construction, the business skills training that the program provides, and, in fact, all the hands-on aspects.

Nina Javier, who has already developed her “Grow and Glow” carrot-based body rub that she sells at the city’s farmers’ markets,  was enjoying being a carpenter.

What draws her to program fundamentally, she said, is the pleasure and mystery of watching things grow.

“It’s fascinating,” she said, and then went back to holding the boards tight, as the construction proceeded.

Land Trust Garden Education Coordinator Esther Rose-Wilen estimated that when fully operational the three boxes will produce five cubic yards of rich compost every two months. That would be sufficient to supply compost for the Trust’s 55 gardens, saving a lot of money needed to purchase a lesser quality compost, and what’s left over can be for sale as the young entrepreneurs look for clients.

In the shorter term, Medina said his own business own four-year-old community composting business Peels & Wheels will “hire” the Trust’s facility, which he is helping to build, to take scraps that, for example, he may not be able to process.

Medina is also consulting with Common Ground High School to build its own composting facility, but one tailored to its specific needs that include re-processing the waste from school’s farms.

“The beauty of all this,” he said as he took a break from working with the kids, “is that we’re creating a small economy around composting. I can pay them to process,” he said. Without the composting service he offers, and hopes to grow to capacity of about 200 customers, “everything we put in the trash gets burned in municipal incinerators.”

“Here,” he added, “we’re improving the soil, mitigating pollution, and creating jobs.”

Then Medina went back to work locating a tool the kids will need to mount the brackets on the pole for the solar panels.

New Haven Land Trust Executive Director Justin Elicker said if the composter project is successful at the Winchester Garden site, the organization will consider doing another such project at one of the other garden sites.

The Winchester Garden is one of three sites citywide, out of a portfolio of 55 gardens, that the Trust owns outright, as opposed to leasing arrangements with the city and others.

Elicker pronounced what he saw “unbelievable”: “It makes sense for us to invest in property we own.”

Local gardener and filmmaker Satya Peram, who was documenting the project with his video camera, looked at the kids and said that in his view the benefits go even beyond those mentioned — jobs, improving the soil and air.

“When they grow up and have mental instability or depression, their experiences here will hold them steady,” he predicted

If all goes well, Medina estimated the solar powered aerated compost system will be fully operational by the end of the month.

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posted by: SLP on August 3, 2018  3:25pm