Community Composting and the Power of Youth (Feat. Red Hook Community Farm)

Date: 29 Oct 2019 | posted in: Composting | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Welcome back to the Composting for Community podcast! On this episode, host Linda Bilsens Brolis is joined by Domingo Morales and Kenneth Young of Red Hook Community Farm. Domingo and Kenneth talk about the power of being exposed to urban agriculture and composting at a young age and the importance of getting the community involved in your composting project.

They also discuss:

  • Running the nation’s largest compost site powered by 100% renewable resources — and an open invitation to compete for this title!
  • Including people of different abilities, backgrounds, skill sets and strengths
  • Strategies for engaging children in community composting
  • Worms: a composting strategy or a tasty snack?

Listen to this episode, then check out more episodes of the Composting for Community Podcast.

Domingo Morales

Kenneth Young

If we get the minds of children ready for sustainability and composting then we’ll grow a better generation.

Linda Bilsens Brolis Across the country, the community composting movement is growing. Small-Scale composting provides communities immediate opportunities for reducing waste, improving local soil, creating jobs, and fighting climate change. You’re listening to the Composting for Community podcast, where we’ll bring you stories from the people doing this work on the ground and in the soil. To support this burgeoning movement, ILSR’s composting initiative convenes a coalition of community composters from around the country and beyond. These next few episodes feature interviews from our 6th National Cultivating Community Composting Forum in New York City. We talked to attendees about why community composting matters, how they are transforming the way their communities managed their waste, and advice they have for fellow composters.

Hello everyone and welcome to the composting for community podcast. I’m Linda Bilsens Brolis, I’m a project manager for the Composting for Community initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and we are recording from the 6th National Cultivating Community Composting Forum, which is happening in New York City this year. I’m joined now by Domingo Morales and Kenneth Young, who both work at the Red Hook Community Farm.

Kenneth Young Hey everyone.
Domingo Morales How you doing, Domingo here.
Linda Bilsens Brolis So tell us a little bit more about yourselves. Tell our listeners what you guys do at Red Hook.
Domingo Morales So I am the site manager at the Red Hook compost site on the [inaudible] community farm, and what I do is I manage the processing of organics coming from Brooklyn. We recycle the food scraps, wood chips, leaves, mulch, and we turn it into a resource for farmers to be able to grow food in Brooklyn. We supply compost to the farm that is on our site, but we also supply compost to community gardeners, food pantries, and urban farms around Brooklyn.
Linda Bilsens Brolis That was Domingo. What about you Kenneth, tell us what you do.
Kenneth Young So adjacent to that I work at the farm site, I’m a farm assistant. And basically I help with daily farm tasks with the farm manager, as well as two other assistants. What we do is basically we give back to the community of Red Hook. Red Hook is a food desert, so we provide healthier produce options for them throughout, I would say the whole entire Red Hook community, [inaudible].
Linda Bilsens Brolis Great. And our listeners might not be able to tell, but both of these gentlemen are quite young. I’m going to ask you guys to tell listeners how you guys got into composting and how long you’ve been doing it.
Domingo Morales Well, I got into composting when I was a part of Green City Force, a nonprofit organization that goes through AmeriCorps to teach urban youth from 18 to 24 about sustainable practices in different fields. I happen to be on the farm team about four years ago when I was 23 and I learned about farming because they were kind of putting us on existing farms and they were making us learn, and as soon as we finished learning, the next day we’d be teaching what we learned. Yeah, making us learn it pretty fast. They give you a two week crash course on farming, energy sustainability, and environmental sustainability. So I kind of had a crash course, started teaching and I fell in love of composting. Farming wasn’t enough for me. I saw that certain farms needed compost. So I love working out and I love composting. So I just kind of dived straight in, and for four years I’ve been researching and learning and kind of working on different compost sites around the city to develop my expertise.
Linda Bilsens Brolis So now you get your exercise by composting.
Domingo Morales Oh yeah. We’re a hundred percent renewable energy, 85% of what’s done on that compost site is human power. The other percent we have solar energy and wind energy, but we’re the largest compost site in the United States run by renewable resources because of human power. So no, don’t need to pay for a gym.
Linda Bilsens Brolis And Kenneth, what about you?
Kenneth Young Just the same as Domingo. I was 23 when I joined Green City Force and I was on the urban farm team. I actually had a shorter term than normal; mine was only six months. The normal was like 10. So I kinda got like a crash course in urban agriculture and composting and sustainability and everything. And during that time I was also an intern at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden Red Hook site along with two other people. I was under the influence of Domingo and a man by the name of David Buckel, who was a site manager previous to Domingo. So that’s how I got my fundamentals of it in the beginning. And then I went off to work for different, various companies.
Linda Bilsens Brolis Great. It’s just awesome that you guys are still working in composting and urban ag after all that. So what does community composting mean to you?
Kenneth Young I think it means being able to give back to the community while also giving to the Earth, I guess you can say, being able to make the environment that you’re in a better place to live. So even if you’re just collecting food scraps and giving it to another place, another composting site, that’s being beneficial to you cause you’re making your environment better and cleaner and healthier.
Linda Bilsens Brolis You’re taking a role. You’re taking an active role.
Kenneth Young Yeah, you’re taking an active role in making sure that the environment that you live in is much better for you to live longer.
Linda Bilsens Brolis And you Domingo?
Domingo Morales Community composting to me means the community is composting. And when I say the community, I mean everybody, you know, kids, adults, seniors, everybody can partake in this recycling of waste. You know, people look at food as just trash. But community composting, to me, it’s teaching people the difference between trash and a resource and actually showing them how to create a resource. So community composting just has to involve anybody from the community who’s willing to participate. Which is why we strive to kind of make protocols and do things on the site to involve people of different skillsets. And people have different strengths. You know, people who can’t really lift the shovel we would have them sifting and plucking out red wiggler worms from the compost. Then people who actually want to work out, we’ll give them a shovel. And then there’s people who want to farm, so we’ll have them weed on the perimeter. So community composting is just a way to get people together to work together, to create a resource [inaudible].
Linda Bilsens Brolis I thought it was really appropriate and cute, what you said on the social justice panel at the forum today. About working with youth and needing to like create protocols around them. Just things you didn’t even realize you needed to create rules around. But it’s just awesome that you can accommodate everyone. Like not eating the worms.
Domingo Morales You’d be surprised how scrumptious they think they are. I’ve tried a few.
Linda Bilsens Brolis What do you think?
Domingo Morales They’re really, they taste sandy. Yeah. That’s like a real, they look soft but when you eat it there’s a grit to it. And that that’s how they digest. They have like grit in their stomach that, you know, passes the food, passes over and kind of breaks it down. But you really don’t realize it. They don’t taste bad. They don’t taste like anything, but they are really like gritty.
Linda Bilsens Brolis So not quite like a gummy worm.
Domingo Morales No!
Linda Bilsens Brolis Alright. Well you know, if people want to try it out for themselves, go for it. So as we mentioned earlier, we’re at the 6th National Cultivating Community Composting Forum in New York City, and this is the first time that either of you is attending this event. That’s right, right? What is it, what does it feel like to be in community with so many other composters from around the country? How does that feel?
Domingo Morales For me it’s empowering. When you composting, especially by hand in such an urban place like New York City, there’s a lot of machine operated sites and you start to feel small when you think of how much waste they can actually take. But it’s great cause this forum actually brings people of all walks, people who are hauling by bike, people are who are hauling by trucks, people who are doing it by hand, people who have machines. So it just feels empowering to know that there are people are thinking in similar ways, thinking about the environment, and it’s just nice to geek out about a subject such as compost when you really can’t do that with your regular circle of friends. So yeah. So it’s, it feels empowering.
Kenneth Young Yeah, it was really cool that before I wasn’t really known as a farmer, within my circle of friends cause a lot of my friends now are all organic farmers. So we all have different branches of what we do. And I’m the only one out of all of them who technically does not count as an urban farmer. I’m technically as a composter, so they know me as a composter. And it’s actually cool to be around a room full of people who are composters as well, who identify as composters, who understand the struggle of composting, who understands that it really is taxing on their body at times. There are days where it shows shoveling was really hard and there are days where shoveling was really easy. So it’s good to be around a room full of people who kind of can understand that, whether they do it by hand or whether they do by machine.
Linda Bilsens Brolis Definitely. So what are some of your goals for the next year? What would you say?
Kenneth Young I definitely want to be able to teach more people about composting. It’s kind of hard having this one right next door. So, but I definitely like to teach people more about composting. During my time working with GrowNYC where I did a compost coordinator, I definitely informed as many people as possible about what the program is, why we do composting and things like that. So I really enjoyed to talk to the community about composting and in a simple way that actually is entertaining, always trying to make people laugh with some of the things that I say. So it’s easier to do that than just to sit there and tell them a basic line about what composting is.
Linda Bilsens Brolis So like public outreach, community outreach.
Kenneth Young Yeah. Even though I don’t like talking to people, I still do that anyway. It’s hard to tell. I really don’t.
Linda Bilsens Brolis What about you Domingo?
Domingo Morales For me, in the next year, well ever since the passing of the great David Buckel, I’ve been constantly rethinking things on the site. You know, like we never had infrastructure to take kids before his passing and we never had wheelchair accessible tables. So my idea is trying to take what he started and this gem of a compost site that he started and expand on it and try to increase the community that we can actually work with. And encouraging others to compete for that title of the largest compost site in the U.S. That runs on all renewable resources. I want someone to challenge, you know, let’s do it. It’s an open invitation. Get your volunteers out there. You can’t do it without volunteers. You’d be insane to think you can. It’s community composting, get your community out, reach out to them. But my goal is try to grow the site in a way where more people can learn and encourage more people to learn from the site by being more inviting and you know, just welcoming people to come.
Linda Bilsens Brolis So the shoes of the late David Buckel are very big, but you know, big shoes to fill. But I think that you absolutely are the right person to do that. So we’re very lucky, very blessed that you’re here to do that. So are there any resources or any advice that you would share with new composters out there who are maybe just getting started?
Domingo Morales Advice I would say know your limit. There’s, there’s a line between trying to take as much as you can and taking too much. So I would say start small and let it grow through practice. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes happen. But try to get rid of the myths, you know, try to keep rats off your site. Try to keep odors down. We haven’t had a rat problem on our site since 2011. We’re in the city, we’re in Brooklyn. That’s really hard to do. Yeah, it’s possible, but it’s really hard. So don’t be afraid to kind of make mistakes.
Linda Bilsens Brolis What about you? Any advice?
Kenneth Young I think the best advice would be like, don’t try to be original, but try to create an original idea from someone else. Meaning it’s okay to go to someone else’s compost site and see how they’re doing things and learn. Say this is the method that they’re doing it. This is the method that maybe Domingo is doing it and then okay, let me try to adapt that to my, how I want, my vision of my compost site to look. So definitely try to, not try to strive for this be so different than everybody else. Try to take notes from everyone else and then go from there.
Linda Bilsens Brolis That’s something that I personally like about the community composting sort of movement is that it is very collaborative. I mean you have these kinds of forums where people come from all over the place to share with each other and they’re very eager to support each other and I think that’s very unique and really beautiful. So I hear that. What about resources that you’d like to point people to, our listeners who might want to learn more about you as individuals or what you do at Red Hook Community Farm in Brooklyn? What about you?
Domingo Morales Me, I make music about farming. If you go to my SoundCloud on Domingo Morales, there’s a song called Mother Nature and then there’s another song about reducing waste. And it’s called Vision and it’s basically like my idea of New York City sustainably with sustainable infrastructure, composting, recycling. So if you just go to Domingo Morales and my SoundCloud and type in Mother Nature. You’ll listen to some pretty cool ideas. The songs aren’t mastered. I made them at home. I’m just reading and kind of putting information out on a beat. But yeah, if you want to learn a little bit about what I do, check out my music and come to the site. I always like to talk about myself after we finished talking about compost for three hours.
Linda Bilsens Brolis Cool, definitely check that out. What about you Kenneth, any resources?
Kenneth Young The only resource is to come see me in person, really, if you ever in Red Hook in Brooklyn, just come to the farm, volunteer, I can work alongside of you. Just look for the guy with the bluish purple hair, you’ll find me.
Linda Bilsens Brolis That’s very distinctive. Awesome. Yeah. Is there anything else that you’d like to say to folks who might be listening to this podcast? Close things up.
Domingo Morales If you’re working with kids and you’re trying to get them to like composting, there’s a little dance. It’s called the worm dance. And just say the words, munch, munch, wiggle, wiggle, poop poop, soil. And the kids love it, of all ages. For some reason, they just can’t get enough of it. So if you’re having a hard time getting kids involved, make a weird dance, make a song make something catchy and you’ll have kids. If we get the minds of children ready for sustainability and composting, then we’ll grow a better generation.
Linda Bilsens Brolis And if you want to see Domingo’s original version of that dance, you’ll have to come—
Domingo Morales You have to come to the site. Yeah. Fridays and Saturdays year-round, Fridays from 9 to 12, Saturdays from 10 to 1. Right across the street from the big Ikea. It’s the only one in the city. You can’t miss it.
Linda Bilsens Brolis Any closing thoughts Kenneth?
Kenneth Young Just don’t be afraid to try something new. If you’re afraid of composting, if you’re afraid to start something on your own. Don’t be afraid. It’s just, it’ll be hard at the beginning of it. It’ll get easier as you keep doing it. And don’t be worried if you’re doing it in a place that’s like cold majority of the year, because I’ve composted in 9 degree weather and that is nothing.
Linda Bilsens Brolis Don’t be afraid. I think that’s wise advice for life in general. Absolutely. So thank you both so much for joining us and we will definitely look forward to visiting you guys in New York again.

Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Composting for Community podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. This episode is produced by myself and Hibba Meraay. We’ll be back again next month with a new episode. Our theme music is I Dunno by Grapes. Be sure to check out the rest of the ILSR podcast family, including Building Local Power, Local Energy Rules, and Community Broadband Bits, at



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Audio Credit: I Dunno by Grapes. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.

Photo Credit: Domingo Morales

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Linda Bilsens Brolis

Linda is the Senior Program Manager for ILSR’s Composting for Community Initiative and Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Composter Training Program.