In the summer of 2014, the Bushwick Food Coop linked up with BK Rot to establish a partnership for all the right reasons: to empower Brooklyn youth, to promote food justice, and, above all, merge two grassroots, local organizations who care equally about food systems and healthy living.
Renee from BK Rot and Jessica, our manager, played large roles in developing this relationship – as both a coop member and an environmentalist, Renee had the wonderful idea to reach out to the coop about extending BK Rot’s services. After over a year of wonderful work together, BK Rot now processes 150-220 pounds of coop members’ compostable material per week!
I interviewed Sandy Nurse, founder and co-facilitator of BK Rot, who told me the wonderful story behind the composting service:
“I got the idea of starting BK Rot after spending a very cold winter and a really hot summer doing food deliveries on bike in Brooklyn. I was looking for ways to earn more money while biking, which I enjoy, and began looking into food scraps as something people could support. I looked into what cooperative models of organic waste haulers in places like western Mass and in Texas. The hard truth is it would be difficult to earn a living off this, but it actually works out great for youth who are looking for part-time work, to earn a little pocket money or are saving for college applications.”
Nicole McNey: So why compost? Why should coop members pay for BK Rot’s services? What benefits is either side seeing?
Sandy Nurse: “There are many hidden costs in producing compost (a huge one is simply access to land), but small costs are things like tools, good bikes, good trailers, and processing equipment. Most importantly, we believe that those working to improve the health of our ecosystems and communities should be compensated fairly for that work. Many people could offer their free time in doing this, but we believe that youth who are impacted the most by environmental mismanagement, poor air quality, housing instability, the injustice of the immigration system (and so many more issues) should be given a chance to participate in this work too. For them, volunteering is a privilege they just don’t have. At the basic level, composting year-round is hard! And on a 10 degree winter day, a few bucks goes a long way to ensuring the work is done well.”
NM: How does the service work? What do the BK Rot kids do?
SN: “BK Rot youth collect what has been dropped off at the Coop on Sundays at 4pm and transport it by bike to composters built in local gardens. There they will open the bags, go through the scraps making sure only acceptable items are being added to the existing pile. They then chop everything up and mix it with sawdust before putting it all in the active compost system. Each weekly work shift is three hours long. The work is physically demanding, messy, smelly work that takes time and knowledge of the composting process. The requested donations go directly to the youth, compensating them for their hard work, availability, commitment, and time. BK Rot is an all-volunteer effort, except for the youth.”
The pricing structure for compost drop-off at the coop is simple – it’s donation-based, with a suggested $3 for one bag and $5 for two. Your donation goes directly to the youth. $30 pays them for two hours of work. If there’s extra cash after the kids get paid, BK Rot uses it to offset other costs such as bike and compost bin repair.
Look out for the co-op’s very own, Victor, who picks up the store’s compost twice a week! Thanks, Victor!
So, what can you compost?
Basically any food you can think of. Here’s a list of compost-friendly items from BK Rot’s website:
- Fruit scraps (please freeze these for one day before drop off)
- Vegetable scraps
- Coffee grounds
- Tea bags
- Dry grains
- Corn cobs
- Egg shells (but NO eggs)
- Fresh and dry leaves
- Green plants prunings
- Hedge trimmings
- Grass clippings
- Flower bouquets
- Dead plants
- Old potting soil
- Straw and hay
- Untreated wood chips and sawdust
- Food-soiled paper towels and napkins
- Shredded paper
What not to bring:
- Eggs/Cheese/Dairy Products
- Rubber Bands/Cork/Twist Ties
- Pet waste/litter (even if labeled “compostable”)
- Compostable cups
- Dishes/utensils (even if labeled “compostable”)
Did you know? Without careful attention from hardworking compost caretakers, compost can spontaneously combust! Sandy warns, “Decomposing matter can get incredibly hot as the size of the rotting pile grows. The density and weight of the piles can cause spontaneous combustion. Turning the piles… allows oxygen to touch all the matter and cool it off. The oxygen is quickly absorbed by microorganisms and so that pile grows hot again quickly.”
But you don’t have to tend steaming piles of compost to help BK Rot thrive. Just throw your food scraps in a compostable bag and bring it on over to the co-op for your weekly shopping trip. Drop it off, pay $3, help empower local youth. It’s really that easy!
**BK Rot will be hosting its First Annual Barbe-Jerk Dinner on Sunday, February 27th. It’s a fundraiser and celebration of the project – a chance for folks to meet the youth who do this work and learn more about who we are. Iyeshima, BK Rot’s Operation Manager, put together an awesome menu, including Jamaican BBQ jerk chicken, a curry tofu, salads, veggie kebabs, and more.
Any coop members interested in helping out with the fundraiser – contact firstname.lastname@example.org. They’re composting all the food at the event (even meat and dairy for the first time!) Come one, come all.**