Compost Chronicles | Committed Environmentalist

Ready to compost at home but not sure how to get started? Check out Georgia’s journey from familial knowledge to indigenous Kichwa peoples in the Ecuadorian Amazon knowledge to her known. For her, composting is a connection back to people in her life that care for the Earth as much as she does.

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The Compost Chronicles series highlights families in various circumstances who have all found a way to compost at home that works for their lifestyle. Hopefully, you can be inspired to give it a go and help our planet become a little healthier.

Did you know that composting can transform your trash into new life? And that new life, in the form of microbes, fungi, earthworms, and more, provides the foundation for much of all other healthy life on Earth?

Composting is a great way to create healthy soil to support people and our planet. Healthy soil is also a magical carbon sink that absorbs carbon from our atmosphere and helps cool the planet. While dead dirt has few living organisms, a teaspoon of healthy soil has more living organisms in it than the entire population of humans on Planet Earth!

We need everyone to learn how to compost at home and make it a part of everyday life.

Don’t think you can compost? We’ve got a whole set of resources on Everything To Know About How To Compost At Home, including more Compost Chronicles interviews. All of this information about how to compost at home will hopefully prove that just about anyone can make space and find a system to turn their food scraps into nutrient-rich compost to enrich our soil, feed our food cycle, and limit the food waste that ends up in landfills.

Meet Georgia!

Can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you live, your family, etc…? 

My name is Georgia Ennis. I currently rent an apartment in Pennsylvania with Matt, my long-term partner. We are about to move to North Carolina in a few weeks, where I’m starting a job as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at Western Carolina University.

I have a Ph.D. in linguistic anthropology from the University of Michigan. My research focuses on language revitalization and environmental knowledge among Indigenous Napo Kichwa people in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Tell us a little bit about why you decided to start composting? 

I grew up in a rural area outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and my mom usually had a garden and compost bin. After she passed away as a teenager, these types of environmental habits became less important to me. 

For my Ph.D. research, I lived with a Napo Kichwa family in a rural village. They didn’t waste anything, including food scraps that they fed to their animals or composted. I learned a lot about regenerative agroforestry practices while I lived with them, including much about composting.

My experience living with the Napo Kichwa showed me how disproportionately affected Indigenous Amazonians are by so many issues: the early effects of climate change, theft of their territories by settlers, and mineral extraction, to name just a few.

By the time I finished my research in the Amazon, I was a really committed environmentalist. That included a renewed interest in composting. Composting is one of the most effective means we have of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from food waste while also regenerating our soils.

What method or methods of composting do you use or have you used?

I have tried a few methods of composting. In Ann Arbor, I was lucky to have access to regular municipal composting, which was the most convenient for me as a consumer. I simply collected food scraps and placed them in the bin once a week for collection. Ideally, this sort of service would be available to everyone.

Arbor home compost collection bin provided by the city to residents

I’ve also lived in a lot of places where composting is more difficult as a renter. There is no municipal composting available where I currently live in Pennsylvania.

A year ago, I bought a large Soil Saver compost bin from Facebook Marketplace for $15. My landlord agreed to let me put it near our trash bins. A few people from my building also used it for scraps. I mostly neglected it, but it still made compost!

If you had any methods that didn’t work for you, can you share what happened and why it wasn’t a good fit for you?

Next time I may invest in a tumbler system instead of a bin to make turning it more manageable. I was lazy about turning the compost by hand, especially when it got cold. The lid on my bin also broke during a windstorm, so it may not be the most effective design.

For your compost at home, how do you store the scraps until they are taken to your compost pile?

We put food scraps into an enameled pot on our counter to take outside every few days. Nothing fancy, and we still didn’t have problems with smell.

For a while, I froze my compost and dropped it off every few weeks with a friend who had access to composting.

Bagged compost in Georgia’s freezer

Do you have any other supplies that you store until you need to add them to your compost pile?

I’ve used leftover cardboard from takeout containers and pizza boxes for browns, as well as dried leaves from our yard, and hay. We have a porch where I was able to store my bale of hay, and I keep a collection of paper and cardboard for composting in my utility closet.

How does your family feel about composting?

I’m lucky to have an environmentally supportive partner who is really interested in sustainable farming and composting. We are excited to live somewhere more permanent and build a compost system there in the near future.

Have you experienced any benefits from composting, especially ones that might have surprised you? 

I was surprised at how accomplished and happy I felt when I dug into my bin this spring and found a bunch of beautiful dark compost hiding under the browns. Personally, composting is also a way that I feel more connected to the memory of my mother and the Kichwa women who taught me about gardening in the Amazon.

Anything else you’d like to share with readers about your composting practices, especially to help beginners gain confidence that they too can compost?

I literally didn’t do anything to my bin for months and it still made compost! Composting is one of the most fundamental natural processes there is on our planet, we just need to learn how to help it happen in the different places we live.

Where else can we find you and learn more about what you’re up to? 

You can find me on Instagram for sustainability and environmentalism @plasticfreephd or read more about my academic work in the Amazon rainforest at http://georgiaennis.com

Jen Panaro

Jen Panaro, founder and editor-in-chief of Honestly Modern, is a self-proclaimed composting nerd and an advocate for sustainable living for modern families. In her spare time, she’s a serial library book borrower, a messy gardener, and a mom of two boys who spends a lot of time in hockey rinks and on baseball fields.

You can find more of her work at Raising Global Kidizens, an online space to help parents and caregivers raise the next generation of responsible global citizens.

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