Rags to Riches

In the interest of solving the most immediate problems first, I found an urban farm willing to take food scraps. This is very exciting. I’ve been storing my scraps in the freezer until I’m able to drop them off, mainly fruit and coffee grounds. This little experiment is going to serve another important purpose: I’m going to see what I eat each week including how much meat, fat…because the farm doesn’t take animal products or oils into their composting.

Today we went to the Altgeld Sawyer Corner Farm in Logan Square.


The ASCF 2011

They accept food scraps for composting Wednesdays from 6:00-7:30P.M. No meat, oil…   Too much citrus not good. All produce from the farm goes to Christopher House, a school for low-income children.

Wednesday Nights

Altgeld Sawyer Corner Farm takes this:

Pre Compost

And turns it into this:

Post Compost

(The dark loamy stuff on the far right. We apologize. There’s really no excuse for careless photography. )

Here’s some info from their website:

Basic Composting requires Four Ingredients: Browns, Greens, Air and Water.

Browns are Carbon-rich matter like dry leaves and straw. Greens are typically Nitrogen-rich, “wet” matter like fruit and vegetable scraps. When layered or mixed in proper proportion with adequate moisture and ventilation, these materials efficiently decompose, producing fertilizer for the garden.

We run four composters at a time – created compost/soil is used to improve beds at our community farm, increasing our yields and the amount of food we can give to Christopher House’s food pantry.

Pro-tip: Collect your fruit and veggie scraps in a bag in the freezer. Prevents slimy veggies and gross smells – plus freezing helps the food begin its breakdown process!



Symbiosis is a Beautiful Thing

I think it’s time to address the icky garbagy garbage – food scraps, the most unwelcome of guests. Composting sounds wonderful, doesn’t it, giving back to the earth and all that? When I owned a house I fell madly in love with gardening. I started to redesign my outdoor space like gangbusters and was soon producing copious amounts of leaves, twigs, branches…So I began to look for a backyard composter.

At the time I had sufficient energy, space and money to consider a wide array of models. I didn’t end up getting one because life intruded and in a remarkably short span of time I didn’t have a house or a garden or a marriage for that matter. It’s all okay, but I’m living in a much more urban environment now without a garden and there are many more things to consider. I think it’s actually a convenient turn of events because I don’t want to suggest composting if it can’t be accomplished in an apartment.

The first thing I realized once I seriously began to research urban composting options is how little I really know about anything. And because I do not want to give this subject short shrift, I need to do something with my kitchen waste until I actually purchase or build some sort of apparatus. One option, and an excellent interim solution until I’m able to begin composting here, is to find someone who will take my kitchen scraps and fold them into an existing operation. You may have urban farms nearby who will take your scraps or perhaps you can find friendly, land-owning neighbors.

American Gothic

Some cities, like San Francisco, offer curbside composting. In Chicago Collective Resource will pick up compostable materials from your home or office for a small fee.

My scraps will go into the freezer until they get too big to keep there. This will prevent them from emitting fumes until I’m ready to drop them off. My freezer is some seriously over crowded real estate so I have to utilize vertical space.


A smallish food container that can be turned anywhichway works really well. If you’re up against the wall space-wise you could use a plastic baggy and reuse it and reuse it and reuse it.

Back to composting. From the very little bit I know so far I feel that I have to warn you: there are worms involved. Unless you plan to have your compost composting for months on end, you’ll need a little help. They may look gross, but these itty bitty critters find little more appetizing than what you would think of as rotting garbage. Symbiosis is a beautiful thing.

What We Don’t Know…

Plastic recycling
On Friday I published a list of what can theoretically be recycled, cleverly titled “What Can Be Recycled.” I must reiterate the fact that it’s all down to what your local Materials Recovery Facility, (MRF) can and cannot accept.

Almost everyone I know assumes that they know the rules of recycling and almost no one I know does. Plastic recycling can be especially tricky and we can’t just throw things into the blue bin willy nilly. I’ve noticed that many of my friends put things in the recycling bin based upon what they think should be recycled. Sample conversation:

Me – “This can’t be recycled.” Holding a number 6 plastic container.

Friend – “Sure it can. It’s plastic. Look, there’s the little arrowy thing.” Holding a number 6 plastic container.

Me – “It’s plastic, but it’s number 6 plastic, which they don’t take.”

Friend – “I put those in all the time. Obviously they take them.”

Me – “How is that obvious? If it’s something they don’t take they just send it to landfill.”

Friend – “Fine, if they want to send it to landfill, it’s on them.”

And there is the crux of it. We want to believe that it’s being recycled and if it’s not, we don’t really want to know. It’s like cheating on our taxes, here are my receipts do what you want with them. We’re willing to recycle maybe even compost, but please lay off the details just tell me where to wheel the bin on Tuesdays.

Look, I know it sounds hair-splity, but things that seem perfectly benign can cause recycling facilities endless headaches. The Boulder County Recycling Center in Colorado can’t take shredded paper because there is no way for their conveyor sorting system to recognize it. Once it’s wet, it actually jams their whatsis. Other MRFs have no problem with it. I used to flatten my tinfoil, but that actually makes it far less recognizable to the sorting machines. It’s better to ball it up. Don’t flatten plastic containers completely either. If they lose their third dimension, they are mistaken for paper by the machines. These are just examples. Find out if your MRF has rules about colors of plastic and/or glass, standards of cleanliness – should all yogurt be rinsed from the plastic container? How much shampoo residue is ok? Obviously, if it has to be too clean you may end up wasting more water than it’s worth.

Getting back to the imaginary conversation that opened this post:

This is the universal recycling symbolInternational Recyling Symbol
This is the resin identification code PETEwhich is used to indicate the predominant plastic material used in manufacture. The purpose of this symbol is to assist recyclers with sorting the collected materials, but it does not necessarily mean that the product/packaging can be recycled through domestic curbside collection.

What’s my point? The resin identification code doesn’t tell you that the material is recyclable, but it does provide the information you need to know if your local Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) will take it. MRFs usually provide detailed instructions on what they can and cannot recycle. It is then up to us to keep our recycling free of unsuitable materials.

Not enough education is provided to consumers about the specifics in their area and we consequently throw things in the recycling bin that not only don’t get recycled, they contaminate the sorting process and cause reusable materials to be land filled. Let’s not do that.