Hazon Detroit serves up healthy heaps of compost — just in time for Earth Day.
By Karen Couf-Cohen
In the North End neighborhood of Detroit near historic Oakland Avenue, there is a large patch of land where houses used to stand, houses where Jewish immigrants first began their American journey, that in time became the homes for some of Detroit’s most important black cultural figures, including Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin and so many more.
Now it’s the Oakland Avenue Urban Farm, one of the nearly 1,500 urban farms in Detroit that provide food for residents and eco-conscious restaurants such as Avalon Foods, GreenSpace Cafe, Detroit Vegan Soul and many catering businesses. This urban farm, like many others, is nourished by a simple ingredient — compost.
Compost is nature’s grow tonic, fondly referred to by gardeners as “black gold.” Composting is a natural process of recycling organic matter such as leaves, vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and egg shells into a mixture that becomes a rich soil enhancer, full of healthy microscopic bacteria, that will help your garden’s ability to grow.
When Sue Salinger began work as managing director of Hazon Detroit, she began developing partnerships with organizations and individuals working in the urban farming movement in Detroit. Hazon is a national nonprofit organization that encourages sustainability in the Jewish world and beyond.
Jerry Ann Hebron, a longtime community leader working for racial and economic justice, is the executive director of the North End Christian Community Development Corporation and the Oakland Avenue Farm, and she offered Hazon an opportunity to bring the Metro Detroit Jewish community into a relationship with the farm.
This partnership has grown into year-round programming with activities that bridge cultural and religious differences and bring inner city and synagogue youth together to work on the farm.
“We host interracial Shabbat gatherings every summer and organize bike-to-farm tour events that end up with a meal sourced from North End growers at Oakland Avenue Urban Farm,” Salinger said.
The farm provides fresh food, jobs and cultural activities to residents of the North End. The partnership will be made all the richer this spring by a regular infusion of compost provided by Jewish organizations, thanks to Hazon.
A MARRIAGE MADE IN COMPOST
Just in time for Earth Day, Sunday, April 22, Hazon is launching a program for Jewish organizations interested in composting that connects them to farms in need of compost, such as Oakland Avenue Urban Farm.
The composting program was the brainchild of Brittany Feldman, Hazon’s manager of sustainability and outdoor engagement. She runs Hazon’s Seal of Sustainability program, which currently has 13 Jewish organizations participating in a wide range of environmental sustainability projects.
While doing research for Hazon’s Seal program, Feldman found participants frequently asked about composting. “I learned there are no municipal composting options in Metro Detroit,” she said. “My Detroit friends who compost told me they were taking it to local farms.”
That led Feldman to reach out to Midtown Composting, headed by owner Tim Campbell, who has a background in environmental science and renewable energy. Feldman asked if Midtown would be willing to pick up compost in the suburbs and fill an important void.
The plan is for the Hazon Seal of Sustainability sites to put their raw veggie and fruit scraps, eggshells and coffee grinds into a special 5-gallon bucket that Midtown Composting will pick up regularly. Midtown will let the scraps become compost — and then deliver it to the Oakland Avenue Farm, creating a virtuous cycle of life. “What is appealing about Tim’s business model is he is making composting more accessible to people,” Feldman said.
According to Salinger, “Bottom line, we are creating a program that takes oneg, simchah and Jewish school food scraps out of the waste stream, and we are turning it into rich, fertile soil that will feed our Detroit neighbors. Bonus: And by repairing the Earth, tikkun olam, we know composting is very Jewish!”
Participating organizations thus far include Detroit Jews for Justice, Repair the World Detroit, Congregation B’nai Moshe, Congregation Shaarey Zedek, Congregation Shir Tikvah and Temple Beth El — and more are invited.
It is a considerable commitment to change behaviors and patterns and start composting but not impossible, especially for organizations. When done correctly, there is no odor and it does not attract rodents.
“The composting initiative is a welcome opportunity for us, as it is just one more piece in Congregation Shir Tikvah’s commitment to reducing food waste and repurposing food to have a useful and positive impact in the world,” said Lorelei Berg, Congregation Shir Tikvah’s executive director. “Our Sisterhood’s Tikkun Olam Soup Making Group uses all our leftovers weekly to make soup and casseroles for the homeless. Now, with the ability to turn many cooking scraps into compost, there will be very little food coming through our doors that doesn’t serve a greater purpose.”
And, according to Salinger and Campbell, it’s not just about composting; it’s about creating a systems approach to our lives. When we examine an interest in eating healthy, we begin to ask where we get our food and how it’s grown and fertilized, and then start to question where we put our waste.
“Once we commit to getting as close to zero waste as we can, our ecosystems are happy,” Salinger said. “And by rebuilding relationships and nourishing the historic black-Jewish bonds over meals and interracial and intergenerational events, we’re strengthening our social ecosystem.”
And bridging that gap between social and environmental problems is what sustainability is all about. Happy Earth Day, composters!
What To Compost:
- Vegetable and fruit scraps; peelings, ends, cores
- Rotten produce
- Citrus rinds
- Coffee grounds and filters
- Tea bags
- Banana peels
- Apple cores
- Corn cobs
What Not To Compost:
- Meats, bones
- Rubber bands
- Tie wraps
- Plastic bags
- Heavy liquids, soups, sauces, cooking oil
- Onion and potato sacks
- Outdoor yard waste (twigs, leaves)
Ready To Compost?
- If you are affiliated with a Jewish organization and want to participate in Hazon’s compost program, contact Brittany Feldman at Hazon Detroit, (248) 752-4294 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- If you are a commercial business and seek compost pickups, contact Tim Campbell at Midtown Composting at (313) 319-9032
Karen Couf Cohen is a freelance writer and public relations consultant, living and composting in Franklin, Mich.