Compost Projects

The last two days I’ve been working on factsheets, so that’s been my writing practice. One is on the Johnson-Su Bioreactor, which got me thinking about the possibility of focusing my PhD work more on composting than on grazing per se.

They are both important. Both excite me, and start idea wheels turning, for various and quite different reasons. Grazing work gets me going because, well, livestock: there is a deep sense of gladness and satisfaction that I get from working around, and with, grazing animals. I’m interested in the repair of ecological cycles by replacing animals on the landscape. And getting more feet and eyes on the land is important in so many ways, not just from an ecological standpoint but from a human one: we need to be out there in order to feel, understand, appreciate and then work on restoring the health of the land around us.

On the other hand, compost. It’s a sexy mixture of heterogeneous resources commonly decreed waste. There are multiple different ways of doing it, and lots of Best Ways That May or May Not Be Verified. But now we’re talking about spreading it all over rangelands, and someone needs to be quantifying the really pointed questions of life cycle costs (and benefits): like, is there a net loss (or gain) in greenhouse gases if we’re moving compost across the state once it’s made, never mind the fuels and labour involved in moving materials from source to processing. And to my knowledge there are only a small handful of studies comparing the microbiology of different composting methods; instead, we talk about How To Compost like there’s one best methodology, which there isn’t – there’s context, and best practice (or process) for a given context. Even between home- and industrial scale the differences are largely trivial: do you use a shovel or a bulldozer to turn your compost pile?

Instead, what if we really get down to business and start comparing methodologies: thermophilic, vermicompost, bioreactor (David Johnson), and what I like to call animated compost – using animals to process large amounts of organic material, including all the nasty stuff one typically doesn’t put into a compost pile, e.g. meat, dairy, onions, citrus. I have photos and videos of our rabbits chowing down on citrus and onion bits; chickens diving into discarded logs of ground turkey; and everybody going a little crazy over the spent bones from my bone broth batches. And then there’s humanure composting, which is a whole other matter, and just as important, if not more, as we try to rediscover old ways of recycling nutrients, conserving (or just plain old not using) drinking water, and replanting ourselves into the cycles of life around us.

Overall I see a plethora of options for either path. I decided early on that I need to be working with livestock, which I had assumed would mean that we would be focusing on grazing projects… but there are plenty of ways to skin a cow, of course, and maybe I canhave it all after all.

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