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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Thoughts on Waste

We were driving back from visiting Grandma and Grandpa in Columbus the other day and I noticed the smell of rotting food wafting through the van. Everyone was asleep except me, I was driving. It was bitter cold outside, but the sun was shining and the heater was on so the van was nice and warm. It took me a few minutes to realize that the smell was coming from the large box of thawing kitchen scraps in the back van. This shifted the conversation happening in my head to a new topic (I’m a farmer. I spend a lot of time alone so I usually have a conversation happening in my head (I usually don’t carry on a conversation with myself out loud. That would be CRAZY!). Keeps me from getting lonely. ) I wondered if people would think I was crazy for hauling two week old kitchen scraps my 72 year old Bostonian mother-in-law had saved back to the farm with me to give to my chickens. The cheeky teenage boy who hangs out in the darker recesses of my mind instantly responded “Do bears shit in the woods?” just to let me know that I was truly was CRAZY. By then I was home and the melted scraps were flung to the overjoyed chickens.

End of conversation. Not Quite.

In answer to my cheeky teenage self, “Yes, bears do shit in the woods.” And that shit is quickly consumed by hundreds of other creatures living in the woods, who use the energy and mineral resources contained there and then pass them on until eventually it is turned back into bear food and then into a bear. This continues in an unending cycle until the bear dies. It then returns everything to the community from which it drew it’s life, and the cycle starts again. That’s what was really happening with the load of scraps I was hauling an hour and a half across the frozen state of Ohio to give to my chickens. My in-laws get several dozen eggs from us when we go for a visit. My mother-in-law, who hasn’t a farming or environmentalist bone in her, can’t stand to waste things. When she heard that we give all our kitchen scraps to the chickens and that they love them, she immediately started saving all her scraps for our chickens too. I doubt we have closed the resource loop, but it is a very symbolic step in the right direction.
This resource cycle is something we have broken completely. All you have to do I take a look at any Organic gardening or farming publication and count the number of adds for organic inputs to realize that organics has gone the way of conventional farming. We take resources from the soil and then try to return them by importing bits and pieces from somewhere else. The energy costs alone will crash the system soon. The real damage however, will be the trans-location of nutrients and mineral resources. The result will be more and more toxic concentrations of waste in some places and nutrient scarcity in others.

Think about it next time you throw something out, or send something down the garbage disposal. Think about it next time you go to the loo and flush away the waste resources of a days worth of food.

I originally posted this on http://connect.bioneers.org/, you can see other philosophical musings there.

1 comment:

jack-of-all-thumbs said...

I did laugh at the 'cheeky teenager' part, since it reminds me of the one that still lurks behind those middle-aged eyes I see in the mirror.

But your assessment of the broken nature of the nutrient cycle is on target and far from funny. I've spent many years on my county's solid waste advisory board. Despite seeing considerable progress in people's attitudes and understanding surrounding 'trash' we still have far to go.

I was also reminded of an essay I used to give to my high school biology students. It's entitled 'Odyssey' and originally appeared in the 1940s classic: 'A Sand County Almanac' by Aldo Leopold. In his story (like the molecules currently making up your chickens) Leopold follows a molecule through food chains and geologic cycles, eon after eon. I've posted it on my site: www.selfsufficientsteward.com.

Thanks for reminding us of one of those natural laws we seem to have forgotten.

Keep up the good fight.

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