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Don’t Waste Food Waste! Join the Radix Center’s Community Compost Initiative!

Poor soil is the biggest obstacle to urban food production Much of the once fertile Hudson River Valley is now polluted and paved over. How can people who live in the most contaminated parts of Albany access healthy soil? The answer is simple: use local organic (once living) waste to produce fresh compost. Food waste, dead leaves, wood chips, and grass clippings can all be diverted from the landfill and reintegrated back into the environment as compost, a nutritional soil supplement used in gardening. Finished compost is amazing for a number of reasons: it restores nutrients and microbial processes to sterilized soils, improves moisture retention and pH, creates soil where none exists, and reduces the risk of exposure to soil-bound lead.

Albany’s Rapp Road Landfill is slated for closure. Composting is a good alternative to the dump.  In fact, it may be the sustainable solution that helps bring vegetables to food deserts and mitigates climate change.

The Radix Ecological Sustainability Center in Albany is kickstarting the way for the Capital Region to compost more efficiently. Radix is a non-profit educational learning center and urban farm based in Albany’s South End. Ten years ago the site was a derelict parking. It now has a solar-heated bioshelter greenhouse that is managed as an indoor ecosystem with fish and flora integrated in an aquaponic system. Microlivestock like chickens and ducks live on the farm and eat food waste. The gardens use a rainwater collection system and electricity is provided by photovoltaic panels. As a demonstration site, Radix runs sustainability education programs and a farmshare. Radix works with the community advocacy organization A Village… Inc., to increase access to healthy, farm fresh food in the South End (classified as a food desert) by distributing at the Health Market, the only farmer’s market in the South End. Radix also encourages food waste diversion through the Community Composting Initiative (CCI).

The CCI is a weekly compost collection service in which subscribers get their food waste picked up at their curbside. The CCI also provides a hands-on example of sustainable waste management for our education programs. Volunteers, youth participants, and interns can touch, examine, and engage with all aspects of the compost process, from adding food scraps to the pile, to sifting fresh compost soil to garden beds.

Radix utilizes several techniques for composting. First, microlivestock such as chickens and geese eat food scraps, and thus lay eggs and defecate manure. Though they eat a significant amount of food scraps, not all is edible; what does not get eaten by the animals is mixed into compost piles with wood chips. When nitrogen-rich food waste is mixed with carbon-based woodchips, aerobic microbial composting begins and the compost pile heats up. As a result of the microbial metabolism, the internal temperature can reach 160 degrees Fahrenheit. In the winter, we harness some of the biothermal heat by running water pipes through the compost pile, and into the greenhouse. Over time, the pile cools and shrinks by almost 50% of volume, and earthworms take over the next part of the process. The finished product is a beautiful broken-down organic matter that is dark in color, with a sweet, rich earthy scent. This resulting soil can then be added as a fertilizer to our raised-bed gardens, replacing the nutrients that are lost with the previous year’s crop.

We believe that it is just as important to keep composting local as food production. When food waste is transported over long distances, the greenhouse gas emissions negate the atmospheric benefits of composting. Furthermore, in local “microbrew” composting, there is greater care put in to what materials get added in to the compost pile, screening out plastic trash, which in industrial scale compost end up getting processed anyway.

We offer a number of practical solutions: some organizations and businesses voluntarily donate their food waste to us; for those who don’t have time, we offer the compost collection subscription; and for those who want to compost local, but aren’t local to Albany, we offer to help match farms to food waste producers.

Composting food waste is an essential component of creating healthy, equitable, and sustainable urban ecosystems. Keeping food out of landfills and making soil helps fight climate change, addresses food scarcity, maintains employment, educates youth, and regenerates soil ecosystem health.

To support Radix, or learn more about our programs, check out www.radixcenter.org.

This article was produced in part with funding provided by the NYS Pollution Prevention Institute through a grant from the Environmental Protection Fund as administered by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
 Any opinions, findings, and/or interpretations of data contained herein are the responsibility of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the opinions, interpretations or policy of Rochester Institute of Technology and its NYS Pollution Prevention Institute or the State.

People of the South End: Sandra McKinley

Sandra McKinley is the founder of D.I.V.A’s for Christ, also known as D.I.V.A's, an organization she created around the same time that AVillage came to be. D.I.V.A's means “Divinely, Inspired, Victoriously, Assigned sister”. The mission of D.I.V.A's for Christ is to empower, strengthen, and encourage individuals living in low-income communities as well as those coming out of jails and other institutions through a network of services and programs designed to help them succeed and survive in today's world. Although D.I.V.A’s still needs a 501c3, one of its most significant focuses is in helping people gain access to construction jobs and the rebuilding of their community and themselves.

Sandra McKinley’s connection with God has been a throughline of her life. Her faith not only continually brings her guidance and restoration, but served as an inspiration for her community work.

“D.I.V.A's was revealed. It wasn’t something that I thought up. It was something that was revealed to me through my heart, through my situations and my struggles and my life. So as I grew to know who God was, he taught me who I was.”

Sandra McKinley cares deeply about fighting the oppression that black men and women face, and wants to break through the wall that separates our communities from true success. She thinks community members need to be empowered to hold non-profits responsible for the change they commit to make, and knows that connecting marginalized people to resources is a round-the-clock job. “D.I.V.A's is here to try to help them get to an open door. We can get them to the door, and they can stand and stare at it all day but if they don't walk through it then nothing’s gonna happen.”

Sandra McKinley’s organization is run by willpower and determination. She values the importance of getting the community the information that will help them the most. She knows that the systemic issues facing black people in poor communities loom large, and that even huge organizations can’t find resolutions for every problem. But as sure as Sandra’s faith serves as a guidepost for her values, there’s a Bible verse for that.

“If I was to use one sentence to describe what I do for D.I.V.A's it would be, ‘To walk someone through to the other side of where they are.' The bible tells us that we should be helping one another. Philippians 2:4 says, ‘Let each of you look not to his own interest, but also to the interests of others.’ And hopefully as I grab hold of somebody and walk with them, they will grab two.”

Sandra McKinley is a healer, a leader, a friend, and a coach, all in one. She aims to build the faith of those who feel that they have none left. Although Sandra is still trying to build her organization’s capacity, she doesn’t let that stop her from bridging the gap between youth and the type of opportunities she missed out on herself. “God shows us where we wasted time and by investing in someone else and my hope is that they won’t waste so much.”
She is an incredibly self-reflective individual, and talks about the lessons she wishes she could tell her teenage-self. “Somebody has to water your dream. Somebody has to encourage us. It puts joy in people’s hearts that makes them blossom. That makes that flower come up and their backs get straighter.”

I ask Sandra what brings her the most joy. After all, so much of her life has been intertwined with helping people through the hardest moments of theirs. Her answer comes with a brief pause, a bright smile on her face. “When I see someone who was down, get up.”

If you would like to support D.I.V.A’s, or know someone who could help the organization get a 501c3, e-mail Sandra McKinley at divasforchrist2017(at)gmail.com.