Growing Compost and Community

COVID-19 Lockdown 1.0 and I’m sinking my hands deep into the soil. Is this what they mean by ‘earthing’? I’m not sure, but I’m feeling it.

I’m in a new house in a new city and I haven’t yet learnt to sit comfortably with the uncertainty that COVID has dropped in my lap. My maternity leave has expired but there’s no chance of finding a job in an industry that has shut its doors entirely and indefinitely. Our new house has become our universe. Each day our four-person bubble embraces the minor liberty of wandering down to the nearby oval to observe other four or five-person bubbles doing the same. Grasping at small freedoms. Inhaling fresh air as if our homes were somehow devoid of oxygen. We play and we chase and we take a moment to be grateful for all those things that make us an incredibly lucky. Then I return to the house and sink my hands into the soil. My familiar, my comfort, my home.

Actually, if I’m being precise, I’m sinking my hands into compost. That’s what really brings me home. Composting makes sense on a number of levels. In a practical sense, I need to build up my newly-established veggie beds. In a therapeutic sense, the familiar process and the repetition gives me the solace I’m craving in this wild new world. Grow, eat, compost, repeat. There’s something very comforting about the rhythm of it all in a world that has become so dramatically arrhythmic, yet at the same time, so mind-numbingly monotonous.

Hannah Churton.

I realise I’m yearning for a connection outside my family bubble. Some say there are a billion microbes in a single teaspoon of compost. Maybe my compost can fill that void? But no, despite my introversion, it turns out I’m seeking connection of the human rather than microbial variety. Maybe compost can be my catalyst?

My husband suggests I establish a no-contact compost hub from our carport. I don’t think the idea is going to take off but I’m pretty pumped to have a project nonetheless. It takes me a couple of weeks to forage some bathtubs from renovation sites around town. Turns out I’m a damn good scavenger, though it helps that Facebook Marketplace is flogging them off for cheap in this renovator’s-delight corner of the globe. The bathtubs become a glorious series of worm farms in the bowels of the dirt pit under my house.

I fashion a sign from some discarded plywood, reading ‘Lilley Road Compost Hub’ and I prop it up under the eaves and stash some buckets underneath that. I’m social distance compliant and I’m ready to roll. I’m also assuming that the crowds aren’t out there busting a gut to get in on the action.

Curiously, the crowds come. Slowly but surely the buckets disappear, only to return filled with the day’s or the week’s organic detritus. The kids at number 26 come first, then Josh at number 15 and Cam at 16 get in on the gig. Everyone’s sheepish at first – can I help? How are you doing all this? Who’s cleaning the buckets for you? Soon I’ve got Prue from number two dropping off newspapers ‘to help me with my carbon’ and Scott and Louise from number 40 dropping off the odd bag of limes in a kind of trade. I’m buoyed.

Eventually, even Dom and her kids are on board and Sarah at number 25 is delighted that her ravenous family of five is no longer sending their weekly tonnage of food waste to landfill. The buckets keep coming, often with a little note of thanks or encouragement for what I’ve established, a love heart, a smiley face. We clock 50 kilos, and then 500 kilos, a tonne and then two. Turns out our street was just waiting for something like this to happen.

Turns out it’s not buckets of food waste that are fuelling the hub anymore, it’s community.

I hadn’t banked on the community that would come with the project. Nor had I fully appreciated the importance of community to our collective lives, even more so in a pandemic.

The Lilley Road Compost Hub.

The hub is first a thriving community, and second a soil building machine. More recently, it is also a community verge garden, where the compost we have built together grows the food that the we eat together. It’s a marketplace and a meeting place where we ponder weird and wild new ways the street can soften its environmental footprint (like trucking in the street’s supply of eco toilet paper by the pallet). All in all, we feed the soil so the soil can feed us. Physically and metaphorically.

Note: The compost hub on Lilley Road has processed in excess of two tonnes of food waste in less than a year. The compost that doesn’t go on our community garden is ‘sold’ back to the community by donation, with the proceeds going to WasteAid, a grassroots organisation that builds waste management systems in Australian Indigenous communities.