compost egg shells and coffee grounds in stainless steel compost caddy

Composting: The Gateway Drug

Are you afraid to compost?

Something about composting scares me. As a city girl, I could never wrap my head around the process that led rotting food to become nutrient-rich compost that would help grow more food. I spent my formative years in New York City, where despite an avid urban farming scene and ample opportunities to trade my food scraps for ready-made compost, I cowered. Even when I had a large backyard (the New York City holy grail), I abdicated my responsibility to care for the Earth and my use of it in this supposedly simple way.

No one I knew composted, and every time I would try to search for information, I was immediately overwhelmed. Do I need worms? How do you even build a compost pile? And what if I put in something bad? 

So, I gave up.

stainless steel compost caddy

Learning to love the compost

Moving to the Asheville-area seemed like the perfect opportunity to tackle this fear.  My first rental had a compost pile ready, but in asking about it I must have shown my city slicker ways, and my landlord scared me out of using it. (How will you manage? Do you know where to get worms? You HAVE composted before, right?)

My second Asheville home came ready-made with young punk urban farmers and a scrappy food-production scene. It took a few months, but I worked up the courage to ask: can I add my scraps to your compost pile?

The delighted response, apparently an acknowledgement of another compost conversion slowly tipping the scale towards saving the world, finally gave me the confidence I needed to try.

What can you compost?

It turns out, the list of what is compostable is pretty simple. If it's raw, unprocessed, or doesn't contain animal products, you're probably safe. This was great news for me! Most of my home cooking revolves around coffee, vegetables, and eggs. All three are welcome additions to the compost pile (for eggs, keep it to the shells). If I'm not cooking at home and end up with cardboard or paper napkins from takeout, those are good compost ingredients, too! Dog fur, nut shells, and spent herbs from tea are all valid offerings to the compost gods. If you stick to these simple guidelines and avoid animal products and fats in your compost, any concerns about smell or attracting animals can be left behind.

I invested in a stainless steel compost caddy with charcoal filters, so I could keep my kitchen scraps in a convenient location and only have to empty into the outdoor pile a couple of times a week.

The outdoor pile already existed, but now that I have seen one up close (and not just on fancy homestead blogs) I realize how easy it is to create. The structure is primarily in place to keep scraps from rolling off into the distance. My neighbors used a few pallets, roughly screwed together, with a low board on the front that than be removed to access the completed compost. Even this citiot could figure out how to replicate such a simple pile.

When adding your kitchen scraps, it's advisable to mix in some brown stuff as well, such as sawdust, dried leaves, or the aforementioned takeout paper napkins. You can also add some worms to speed things along, but the ones already in your yard will likely find their way to the pile on their own.

After you throw it on the pile, give everything a good stir. A compost fork will make this process almost enjoyable, like mixing up a mud pie as a child. 

compost fork to turn compost pile

Unintended consequences of composting

However, the real magic was not in the composting itself, but in how composting shifted my perception of my own waste. Once I started to see my household in terms of what could be composted, I was hooked. The composting gateway drug opened me to a new world. Visiting the grocery store became a game, trying to bring home only vegetables that were unwrapped or packaged in compostable materials. I started turning away from prepared foods, knowing that if they went bad they would be heading to the landfill rather than the transformational pile in my backyard. 

Even my cooking process has shifted subtly into a willingness to do things the long way and make from scratch, if only so I can see the caddy fill with scraps while the trash and recycling bags linger empty.

The shift has been small yet profound, and reaches into my daily choices in a way that I could not have imagined. Not too shabby for a city girl who six months ago was terrified to try composting!

Are you compost curious but without urban farming neighbors to build a pile in your yard? Or are you without a yard? Check out Compost Now, a local business that will pick up your scraps, do the hard work, and bring back finished compost.

Comment 1

Jessica on

Thank you for this post! I am intimidated but need to focus on how easy it can be. Love your term “citiot” That about sums me up! I just can’t stand the thought of making soooo much trash anymore. Thanks for the hit. ; )

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