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Dirt!

The Road to Resilience

In girding our community loins for the tumultuous times ahead, we need to be looking toward maximizing our ability to subsist locally and regionally.  In addition to broadening our skills and strengthening our community bonds, we will need to optimize and cultivate our resources.  For some time now, we have been carefully managing our water supply.  Of the sacred triad of air, water, and soil, perhaps our weakest effort is in maintaining and enhancing our soil.  When in doubt, we can always look to nature as a guide and mentor.  Nature builds soil from dead leaves, branches, excrement, dead animals: whatever lands on the ground and can be broken down.  These are the things that we humans call waste.  In the rest of nature there is no waste.  Waste is a concept only the advanced intellect of a human being could conceive.

As it is, our waste is a very expensive and dangerous liability.  We used to put it in a big hole right here on the island until we filled it up.  Now we ship it across the water to a much larger hole, where it will hopefully remain, unable to harm us, until such a time as it gets reabsorbed by the earth or we, in our desperation, may need to make something useful of it.  It so happens that the nature of a landfill is such that materials placed in them decay very slowly.  I’ve heard reports from neighbors that they or somebody they knew had found fresh and dry newspapers that were more than 30 years old.  You had to be a bit cautious about talking about digging for things in the dump.  It was considered unsafe and was not allowed, although many of us couldn’t resist the natural urge to acquire useful items.  In fact, I’ve found some pretty good stuff there.  I once pulled out a bike that only needed air in its tires!  Building materials, kitchen utensils, you name it -- it was all there, kind of like a yard sale with no price tags.  Besides that, the stuff you took out subtracted from your weight fee on the way out!  You didn’t want to go out heavier than when you went in though.

Although much that we throw out is plastic or chemicals that are extremely difficult to break down, we’ve gotten a little bit smarter about turning some of our waste back into resources.  The county landfill at Cedar Grove makes compost from kitchen and yard waste.  Once we have paid to ship ours across the water in big trucks to Cedar Grove, we can then purchase the recycled compost and bring it all the way back here where it came from.  Makes perfect sense, no?
You may be familiar with a local group that is making plans to turn that waste into resources right here.  Zero Waste Vashon has been active for several years now doing the background work to achieve an obvious win-win goal:  to turn our waste into resources and to save the fuel and labor of transporting it off-island.  At present they are working with the county to determine how much waste we produce, and they are experimenting with different methods of making compost and biochar from that waste.  They are considering the feasibility of setting up an anaerobic digester to produce methane, yet another useful product that we are frittering away.

Getting back to self-reliance, we need that compost to create healthy soil.  Our glacial till is pretty deficient in nutrients, and our layer of healthy soil tends to be pretty thin.  Local farmers have worked wonders with that soil by building it up with compost.

Why compost?  Soil is so much more than a growing medium with nutrients added.  It is more like a metropolis with all the numbers, variety, and complexity that entails.  When compost is applied, you are not merely adding nutrients.  You are introducing a whole community of micro plants, animals and fungi.  In a single teaspoon of healthy soil or compost, there are millions of creatures and thousands of species.  In fact, we still haven’t catalogued the incredible variety of life in the soil, much less how they all interact to create a fertile growing medium.

ZWV will be sponsoring Dirt! The Movie, on Tuesday, Feb 21st, at 6 pm, at the Island Theater.  Dirt is an appropriate name for this movie because it exemplifies how badly we have mischaracterized it.  We’ve grown up to believe that dirt makes up the ground, and when we get it on ourselves, we are “dirty” and must clean ourselves.  Find out how industrial fertilizers are destroying the soil, polluting our air and water, enabling global warming, and making us more dependent on fossil fuels.  These conditions lead to global instability, death, and mayhem.  Healthy soil sequesters five times as much CO2 as forests.  Healthy soil may be the single most important element in our future.  Come to see this movie, and understand why turning our waste into healthy soil is so important.

I’d also like to plug, as well, the movie coming to the theater the following Tuesday.  Seed: The Untold Story brought to us by VIGA.   It tells the story of how  our rich heritage of seed diversity is being decimated and the remaining varieties bought up and controlled by big Ag corporations.  

Comments?  terry@vashonloop.com