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One Small Thing We Can Do

Shabazz Jackson upgrading the Reformed Church Community Garden compost pile. Photo © copyright Carol Bergman 2023


As we work to heal the earth, the earth heals us.

-Robin Wall Kimmerer, "Braiding Sweetgrass; Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants"



I encountered Shabazz Jackson at my favorite compost pile next to the Reformed Church Community Garden on Huguenot Street in New Paltz, NY where I have been casually dumping my scraps for about five years. In a volunteer partnership with the garden's Caring for Creation Committee, Shabazz is making use of their built infrastructure to educate the neighborhood and gather data on how much food waste households generate in Ulster County. His tools are a shovel, a wheelbarrow, an easy-to-construct ecology box—more later—and his degrees in economics, biology and chemistry. I took note of the logo on his truck—GREENWAY—watched him working for a while, then momentarily felt embarrassed by my innocent questioning when I realized this guy is an experienced professional and a teacher, well known in the county as "the compost guy."  Born in Beacon and raised at his grandfather's knee in a vast wilderness which has now been swallowed by Hudson Highlands Park, the dirt under Shabazz's fingernails is legacy. So, too, his business acumen. Knowing that as a Black family they'd never get a bank loan in 1960, the Jacksons pooled their money to buy the property and held onto it all through Shabazz's childhood, resisting Governor Rockefeller's offer to buy it for his planned donation to the state for the park. "We were sitting on the porch together the day a black limousine pulled up to the house and though I was only ten-years-old, my Grandpa sent me down the stairs to find out what "they" wanted."


"They want to buy the house," Shabazz reported.


"Tell them that if Governor Rockefeller comes here personally, I will sell it to him," his grandfather said.


Rockefeller never showed.


"Big story there," I said to Shabazz. "Time to write your memoir."


We were talking on the telephone on a rainy, flood threatening climate catastrophe Sunday. "You do not need to be re-educated, just re-trained," he assured me. "Those food scraps you have been dumping on an open pile are a health hazard. They attract flies, rats and bears."  And there is an essential intermediate step we have been missing—odor control, known as OCB. It's a mixture of food waste compost and kiln dried hardwood shavings designed by Shabazz and his business and life partner, Josephine Papagni, to absorb the moisture and the sulfur produced during decomposition. The result is Zero Waste, which should be everyone's household goal, whether we have gardens or use communal compost piles.  


No more dump and run, I thought to myself:


Step 1: Open the covered ground-level ecology box

Step 2: Dump food scraps out of my counter-top compost pail

Step 3: Cover the food scraps with odor control mixture from the pile next to the box

Step 4: Close the ecology box, walk away with my empty reusable compost pail

Step 5: Begin again


According to the International Zero Waste Alliance, whatever is re-cycled and does not go into the landfill will contribute to climate change harm reduction. The cumulative effect of each person's effort is worthwhile, however imperfect or minimal it may seem as we are doing it. Composting is one small effort; there are many others. (Check out the Zero Waste Hierarchy on the International Alliance's website: https://zwia.org/  )


Shabazz considers the Huguenot Street site a pilot education project and is eager for its users to take a (free) workshop. Give him a call @ 845 656- 6070 when you are in the Mid-Hudson Valley and he'll meet you wherever you are, or contact him on his website: https://www.greenwayny.com/home.html

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