How Black Gold (Composting) Combats the Climate Crisis — Episode 154 of Building Local Power

Date: 30 Jun 2022 | posted in: Building Local Power | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

This episode marks a new beginning for Building Local Power – Reggie Rucker, Communications Director, and Luke Gannon, Communications and Research Associate are taking a step back to look at our work in a larger context. To kick this transition off we welcomed our colleagues from the composting team Brenda Platt, Director of the Composting for Community Initiative, and Linda Bilsens Brolis, Project Manager for the Composting team. We asked our guests how this rich organic matter, compost, is combating the climate crisis. 

Highlights include:

  • How composting can reclaim disturbed sites.
  • The consequences of “waste imperialism” on social and environmental structures.
  • How different composting models make the practice more accessible.
  • The necessary paradigm shift within our consumer culture.


“Waste historically has been an environmental justice issue. We’re dumping our waste on areas of least political resistance, whether it’s the garbage barges on Haiti from the ’80s or in our urban areas where trash incinerators get built.” – Brenda Platt


“Whenever you build something you’re compressing the soil so a lot of community gardens are actually based in places where things don’t readily grow and so you need to import soil. And being able to compost locally just helps reduce input costs because you can help create something that you would otherwise have to buy to help improve your soil to grow.” – Linda Bilsens Brolis


ILSR infographic: Compost Combats the Climate Crisis

ILSR training: Community Composting 101 Online Certificate Course

ILSR web post: Home Composting: Its Time Has Come

ILSR report: Stop Trashing the Climate

ILSR web post: Waste Disposal Surcharges

ILSR web post: Soil Health Policies

Project Drawdown (identifies reducing & recycling food waste as a top climate solution)

Reggie Rucker: Hello, and welcome to Building Local Power, a podcast dedicated to thought-provoking conversations about how we can challenge corporate monopolies and expand the power of people to shape their own future. For more than 45 years, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has worked to build thriving, equitable communities where power, wealth, and accountability remain in local hands. You might be thinking, this isn’t Jess. It’s not. Jess is now leaving communications for the Midwest Climate Adaptation Science Center, we just wanted to say, “Thank you, Jess, for your dedication and integral voice to this podcast.” My name is Reggie Rucker and I’m the new Communications Director at ILSR and co-host for Building Local Power. Now, when I say co-host, that means I have somebody else who needs to introduce themselves. Luke?
Luke Gannon: Hi, everyone. My name is Luke Gannon and I am a Communications and Research Associate here at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I’m super excited to be working with Reggie to produce and co-host this podcast. And I would also like to give a shout-out to Jess who was an amazing asset to the ILSR team. Already in this last month, I have missed her immensely but the Midwest Climate Adaptation Science Center is really lucky to have her. But without further ado, we have a big topic today so let’s dive right in.
Luke Gannon: Today on the show, we are asking our guests how is composting combating the climate crisis? Right now we are experiencing the glaring implications of climate change firsthand. Last year we saw wildfires rage across the west coast and we are starting to see it again. Warming ocean temperatures are killing off species. Just to name one recent event in the news, both Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park are flooding which is due to extreme weather shifts driven by climate change. So as we can see, the consequences of climate change are devastating. And in order to alter these realities, we must drastically reduce global carbon emissions, and most importantly modify our practices to be more responsive to the world around us.
Reggie Rucker: So it’s interesting. I’m really glad we’re having this conversation today. I was doing a little bit of reading and I came across this article and it talked about what cities are doing to combat climate change. In Phoenix, in LA, in Miami-Dade County, they’ve actually established these chief heat officers. In some of these cities they’re installing cooling and misting centers, and hydration stations, planting trees for extra shade. And they’re experimenting with these sort of these quote-unquote high-tech solutions like sealants and reflective coatings for sidewalks, streets, and rooftops. And then some of them are updating their building codes with new green criteria.
Reggie Rucker: So there are all these efforts to combat climate change, but one of the things that I didn’t really hear anything about was composting. How composting could play a role in combating the climate crisis? But that is going to change today. With us to discuss how composting can play an important role in combating the climate crisis are colleagues and esteemed composting educators, Brenda Platt, Director of the Composting for Community Initiative, and Linda Bilsens Brolis, who is the Senior Project Manager for the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Program. So welcome to the show, Brenda and Linda.
Brenda Platt: Good to be here.
Linda Bilsens B…: Thanks for having us.
Reggie Rucker: Absolutely. So I was thinking actually, Brenda and Linda sounds like you need a buddy flick of some sort. I think a buddy composting movie would beat Spider-Man and just be a blockbuster of the summer. I’ll let you have that. I’ll let you have that if you ever want to get into a different career.
Linda Bilsens B…: Thanks. I do take it as a compliment if I ever get called Brenda by mistake.
Reggie Rucker: Okay.
Linda Bilsens B…: Yes. Some of our colleagues call us the Endas.
Reggie Rucker: I like it. I like it.
Linda Bilsens B…: Superheroes, right?
Luke Gannon: Awesome. Well, I’m going to dive right in with our first question. Brenda, can you tell us what is composting?
Brenda Platt: Well, let’s start with compost. Some people they hear about compost, they think it’s soil. It’s not exactly soil. It is a soil amendment, and it’s a living soil amendment, so it’s full of beneficial microbes and it’s rich in something that we call organic matter. Many of us who work in compost we like to call it black gold. Composting, how you make compost, it’s a biological process. So if we control certain conditions in the process the materials are going to decompose quicker into that black gold.
Brenda Platt: Just to be clear, and this is the connection to climate too is composting is an aerobic process. That means it needs oxygen to work. And when it goes anaerobic in starved oxygen conditions like you have in a landfill, then you’re producing methane, and that’s what we don’t really see in well-operated sites, we avoid methane. But in a landfill, starved oxygen conditions. When we throw our food scraps, and our yard trimmings, and other organic materials in the landfill we’re producing methane, it’s a highly potent greenhouse gas. That’s the summary. I don’t know, Linda, if you want to add to that.
Linda Bilsens B…: I mean, I guess it leads me into composting avoids methane emissions from landfills, but it also creates a product that helps to sequester carbon. Carbon sequestration is something that people may have heard about, it sounds really fancy. But essentially, what it refers to, it has to do with carbon being an essential building block of the world that we live on and photosynthesis, which is what plants do by taking … By consuming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere so that they can grow. And in that process, they take carbon and bring it down into their roots. They bring it into their plant bodies, bring it into their roots, and then they exude these carbohydrates or sugars that attract the beneficial soil microbes. Through this process, we’re basically pumping carbon into this soil, and the healthier your soil is the more it’s able to hold onto carbon. The more carbon it’s able to hold onto and the longer it can hold onto it. That’s the simple way of thinking about it.
Luke Gannon: Awesome. Thank you, Linda. That’s super interesting. I also didn’t know the terminology black gold for compost which I really like. I love that. So Linda, can you talk a little bit about how composting enhances soil quality? Brenda mentioned it briefly, but I want to dive a little deeper into that.
Linda Bilsens B…: So when you think of healthy soil you might think of something dark and crumbly, smells like good healthy earth. Compost provides these things to the soil. Basically, compost is providing something called organic matter, and that allows soil to hold onto water which is great. When it rains then it can really put that water to use. If there’s lots of rain it has the ability to hold more of it, and this allows soil to combat flooding where it’s not as susceptible to flooding. And then also, if it’s able to hold onto water when things get dry, if it doesn’t get rain for a while, then it has a resource to tap from. So it’s great for both ends of the spectrum there. Basically, compost helps create a healthy living condition for all those beneficial soil microbes that Brenda and hinted at earlier. And all those microbes are basically what help plants do what they do. They help protect the plants so that they can continue to grow. I don’t know if you have anything to add, Brenda?
Brenda Platt: It’s all about the soil when it comes to compost. I mean, if you’re producing compost one way or another, it’s going to end up back in the soil. It has so many soil benefits. In addition to adding organic matter, and helping increase the water holding capacity, enhances soil structure, it suppresses plant disease. It improves something called cation-exchange capacity, which is the ability of soil to retain nutrients, and so it helps the plants and the things we’re eating be more nutritious too. Just endless benefits to the soil. And when it comes to climate, healthy soils are increasingly recognized as one of the key tools at our disposal to combat climate disruption and climate chaos. So we need healthy soil. So much of the dialogue is focused on let’s cut greenhouse gas emissions, let’s cut fossil fuel use. All of that is really important, but we also need to create these carbon sinks and we need to build healthy soils. And compost is really going to be a key part of that.
Reggie Rucker: I’m curious about the scale at which sort of this solution is applicable. And so I’m originally from California and I think about mudslides that’ll happen along those freeways. Is there composting that sort of could take place in areas like that, that would sort of help mitigate those types of effects? What type of environment would this solution be helpful?
Brenda Platt: Absolutely. And the answer is yes. One of the biggest growing markets for compost is in a field called green infrastructure. So green infrastructure is things like green roofs with living plants or bioswales, which handle stormwater but they’re full of living plants or rain gardens. And on steep highway embankments that are very susceptible to the soil erosion and mudslides you mentioned, one of the best management practices for controlling soil erosion on steep highway embankments and the like is putting compost blankets on them. And when you blow the compost on those steep embankments they’ll have the native grass seed in them so you’re actually growing this living wall, if you will. And so there’s a huge market for green infrastructure. Green infrastructure replaces the gray concrete walls, and pipes, and things so we’re beginning to emulate our native landscapes.
Linda Bilsens B…: Compost can also be used in reclaiming disturbed sites, in general, so an old mine that’s closed down you can apply compost. Compost basically just allows plants to grow. It helps plants grow. And plants are what help to rebuild the landscape and help absorb any extra water and healthy soil. That’s what’s been amended with compost helps to filter water so it actually improves water quality too. So there’s lots of benefits to improving disturbed landscapes.
Brenda Platt: Including land that’s been harmed by the wildfires. Caltrans, which is the Department of Transportation Agency in the state of California, has done studies using compost on fire-damaged lands to help it come back to life, and lots of positive research and impacts of using compost.
Linda Bilsens B…: And we might not generally think about urban cities, city landscapes as disturbed sites but it’s very much true. Whenever you build something you’re compressing the soil so a lot of community gardens are actually based in places where things don’t readily grow and so you need to import soil. And being able to compost locally just helps reduce input costs because you can help create something that you would otherwise have to buy to help improve your soil to grow.
Luke Gannon: This is so interesting. This is making me think about these big catastrophes that we often think are unsolvable. So I’m curious how you guys measure within your own gardens, how you feel like you are making an impact within this larger frame of the climate crisis?
Brenda Platt: I feel so privileged to be able to work in this space because if we’re lucky, all of us are getting three meals a day so we’re having that food scraps pass through our hands. And one of the beauties of composting is that it can be small scale in people’s backyards or a worm bin in a classroom, on-farm, urban areas, community gardens, school gardens, urban farms, all the way to large scale industrial sites, right, and everything in between. So composting is inherently local and so everybody can do it. I mean, I have two worm bins in my basement, I have a HOTBIN outside, Luke, so I’m … To the chagrin of my family, I am weighing every food scrap as it comes out of my house, been doing that for years. So I’m also lucky I’m in one of the communities that has curbside collection of food scraps. We’re a family of four and I … We are composting at home about 74% by weight. And that’s really only fresh fruit and vegetable scraps. I don’t put any of the bones or meat or cooked science projects left over in my backyard.
Brenda Platt: It’s actually quite a lot that you can do at home if you have the space and you’re one of … Living in a house that you like to garden, and it can be used for compost, and you want to not buy the compost anymore. And I’ll just say, I think we’ve become so good in many of our communities collecting our yard trimmings, our fall leaves, that we’re going to find our actual backyards are starved of that organic matter. I mean, why do we think the trees lose those leaves? It’s supposed to nourish the trees, right. I live in the Mid-Atlantic area and a lot of our mature trees are very stressed because of climate disruption. Well, we’re not really doing a good job of protecting our suburban urban trees by keeping that organic matter within our own urban and community soil.
Brenda Platt: If you can do it at home, great, it’s not that hard. There’s lots of home composting trainings available. We’ll put in our show notes the link that we have to our home composting. But don’t feel like you need to do it either. If you’re interested in home composting, you can contact your local public works department, recycling coordinator, elected official and say you want curbside collection or you want a drop-off site or you want a training program. So you can advocate for these programs within your own community.
Linda Bilsens B…: And the great thing is that you don’t necessarily have to do it yourself. There are entrepreneurs working in this space that provide services to come collect food scraps from your house so you’d be supporting a local business in that way. And there are community composting projects that are based at local … At schools or community gardens or urban farms where you can get involved. So there are lots of opportunities, it doesn’t just have to be in your own backyard.
Reggie Rucker: That’s all just really fascinating. I think there’s something about that concept of thinking about how … When we want a pretty yard then we’ll clean up the leaves but when we’re sort of obsessing over how something looks, we’re losing a lot of the value in sort of what nature is trying to provide to us. And so I love that idea of composting, sort of bringing back the nutrients of the things that nature is trying to give us. We can help foster some of that a little bit. We will be right back after very short break.
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Reggie Rucker: I wanted to pivot a little bit, and maybe I’ll start with you Brenda, on this. So there’s this equity component of sort of climate change and solutions to climate change that sometimes may get overlooked. As I was doing a little bit of researching, sort of getting ready for this conversation, there were some obvious elements that were sort of brought to attention where low-income people tend to suffer the most from these localized effects of climate change since they’re more likely to lack AC or work outdoors. There’s a study from the American Geophysical Union, and they pointed out this widespread race-in-class disparity sort of in these urban heat islands.
Reggie Rucker: This made me think about a book that I read a couple of years ago, it’s Eric Klinenberg, Palaces for the People. And so he opens with this anecdote of 1995 Chicago, there’s this heat wave and there were sort of somewhere in the neighborhood of seven, 800 excess deaths. But what he was pointing to was it wasn’t necessarily neighborhoods that had concentrated levels of poverty or violence, but it actually were these neighborhoods that lacked a type of social infrastructure, whether they’re libraries or parks or just places where people can come together. So as I was thinking about all of those things and sort of how there are these disproportionate impacts that climate sort of changes is having, I’m wondering how sort of composting as a practice plays into any of that? How does that give us an opportunity to bring greater equity to the effects of climate change?
Brenda Platt: Lots of opportunities here. And I’m so glad you raised the equity issue. First, let me just say that waste historically has been an environmental justice issue. I think my colleague, Neil Seldman coined the term waste imperialism, that we’re dumping our waste on areas of least political resistance, whether it’s the garbage barges on Haiti from the ’80s or in our urban areas where trash incinerators get built. The largest trash incinerator was in Detroit, a predominantly African American community. There’s a trash incinerator in Baltimore that ILSR with others has been working to close down as an example. And then taking the urban heat island effect in Baltimore, there’s been some studies on that. And, by the way, let me just say that what Reggie’s referring to there is when the temperature in a metropolitan area is significantly hotter than surrounding areas because of the urban development materials like concrete and asphalt, which are replacing natural vegetation. So it’s like a city is what they call the concrete jungle where the sidewalks are absorbing the sun’s heat and emitting it back, right.
Brenda Platt: And so take a city like Baltimore, which again is the home of one of the largest trash incinerators in the country and is repeatedly ranked for poor air quality in the worst urban heat among us cities. And I think there was a study done a few years ago that showed that the heat island impacts were predominantly in African American and low-income neighborhoods of East Baltimore, where on a hot day the average temperatures were in the high 90s and reaching above 100 degrees. And in contrast, the temperatures were in the low 90s and the more affluent and greener areas of Baltimore. And so where this connects to green infrastructure and the use of compost is direct. Those neighborhoods have a lower tree canopy than the other more affluent neighborhoods. Can you plant more trees? Well, then you need planting beds for those. If you have organic matter like compost added, you’re giving those trees a better chance of surviving and thriving, right.
Brenda Platt: There’s been a big movement to plant more tree canopy to deal with this heat island effect, and compost being directly related to healthy soils is a key part of that. Let me just say too that for the composting itself, one of the things that we work on here at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance is … Like I said before, there’s no one way to do composting, but often cities think oh, I need a 50-acre site out of town to build my composting facility. Well, you may need a large facility, maybe you don’t. Maybe you can scale up a distributed decentralized infrastructure. So one of the things we’re promoting is giving people home composting bins, setting them up for success, setting up empty lots to create neighborhood gardens and urban farm, and having composting be an accessory activity that brings neighbors together to do this common work building the social fabric of growing food, engaging the youth.
Brenda Platt: At some of the sites that we’ve been working within the D.C. metro area, in Baltimore, where they’ve converted these sites that had drug dealers, and now they’re growing food, and they’re having youth come in, and they’re doing composting. I mean, this is how we get people in part engaged in composting when they can directly see the benefits to their communities and the compost is coming back to build their healthy soils. Equity is really important here when it comes to how we’re handling our waste so we’re not dumping on disadvantaged at-risk communities, and at the same time giving … Employing them, creating jobs, and creating greener businesses, and then dealing with these climate disruption and chaos which is only going to get worse if we don’t address these issues.
Reggie Rucker: That’s really powerful, especially I mean, the idea of just seeing the community rally around something that’s going to benefit the community and just seeing the community live in their power around that, that’s a really special thing. Linda, I wanted to bring you into this if I could and sort of … So what Brenda was mentioning was a lot of … It sounded like community-led initiatives, but I’m wondering if you can point to any sort of specific city, county initiatives where they are being intentional about sort of providing resources or partnering with the community in a really intentional way to create a sort of a more climate-friendly community using composting as a key tool.
Linda Bilsens B…: Well, I can point to, at a state level, an example. In California, a program that I looked at quite a bit in the last few years, that’s a great example of what can happen when a state connects healthy soils with the farmers in their state. They provide those farmers with financial support to implement the practices that improve soil quality. In California, there’s the Healthy Soils Program. And essentially it’s funded through the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. And so farmers who want to participate in this program can apply and they can get financial resources to basically implement healthy soil practices like applying compost. And applying compost is actually, by far, the most popular of the practices because you could also be doing cover crops, and planting hedgerows, and all these other things that farmers can do. I think this is a great example of what I wish we could be doing elsewhere in the country. It’s taking money and supporting our farmers and doing what a lot of farmers would like to be doing but maybe don’t have the funds to get started.
Brenda Platt: And California is probably one of the states that has really recognized the connection between healthy soils, the role of compost, and the role of farmers in using compost. A shout-out to California. I wish we could replicate some of these programs in other parts of the country. We’ll get there. I’ll just say, at the city level, there’s a number of examples. I wish we could point to one city and say, that’s the model, everyone, but, of course, you have to integrate the best features of many great programs out there.
Brenda Platt: And just because we were talking about the heat island impact, I’ll just say that New York City has been probably the leader in supporting a network of community-scale composting sites. One of the foundations of that program is actually their Master Composter training program. So a lot of the graduates of that program have gone on to start these amazing community composting programs. But the compost that’s produced from that network of more than 200 sites is going into plant trees and other things and improving the tree canopy that we were just talking about. And they’ve done some studies on that too.
Brenda Platt: New York City’s great. Jersey City’s doing some good things. Shout-out to Philadelphia. Parks & Rec’s has started a community composting network. DC Parks & Rec’s has 56 community compost sites. They found that their community gardens that they were managing, or helping to manage, that they were buying soil amendments like mulch, and they realized maybe we could be making our own compost so now people who get trained drop off their food scraps. That program has been replicated in other parts of the U.S. and so we’re seeing that grow. I also just want to mention Alameda County which is in California, maybe your hometown area, Reggie.
Reggie Rucker: I was actually born in Oakland and grew up in Alameda so that is my hometown.
Brenda Platt: There you go. Well, one of the public agency there, StopWaste is doing lots of great things on cutting waste in a wide range of activities but they have a goal of zero waste. And one of the unique things that they have is they have … And this is really important is funding, right. Follow the money. If this is important invest in it, right. Build the infrastructure, fund these programs, and Alameda County is doing just that. And where does the money come from? Well, they have a surcharge on the waste flowing to the local landfill, and that per ton surcharge is funding their zero waste programs including composting. Part of their grants that they’re doing is they’re doing public composting education, they’re expanding local access to compost, and they’re using compost in landscaping. A shout-out to Alameda County.
Brenda Platt: There’s a lot going on in San Mateo County, also in California, is doing something similar. On the east coast, the city of Albany has recently started supporting community-scale composting with partnerships, and their partners or community composters in communities with environmental justice issues and so they’re creating jobs and involving those partners in the process of collecting the food scraps and making the compost, and then the soil’s going back to that community. So there’s lots going on around the country in this space that should give people hope.
Reggie Rucker: So I’ve been in D.C. for just coming up on about a year, and every time I hear California shout it out I love it. This whole conversation has been worth it just to hear all the California shout-outs so thank you both.
Luke Gannon: Gosh. Well, I feel like I have so many questions from your answers to that previous question. One of my questions that I’m going to return to, which is something that I’m really interested in is, how do you change the mentality around these issues? Whether it’s composting or the climate crisis, as an example. Because to me it feels like we can do these practices and we can have these amazing solutions, but until you get a broader more people on board and change how people think about these solutions and think about these topics, it’s hard to actually get there. So I’m curious just what you guys think about that. And how you both feel like you are changing that mentality through composting?
Brenda Platt: This is such a important question. And I think it starts with connecting the dots here. Understanding the connections between our wasting culture, whether it’s food scraps or single-use plastic bottles, disposable food service ware, one of my pet peeves, and climate disruption and chaos. I mean, we can’t just continue to consume materials, unfettered consumption. For every ton of waste we put at the curb for trash collection, there’s 70 tons upstream from mining and transportation. The climate crisis is directly connected to how we consume materials but it’s also something we can do a lot about. We can reduce waste. We can take personal responsibility sure, but I’m a big fan of policy and paradigm changes. I think understanding the connection of food scraps to climate, and methane, emissions from landfills, and then if you make compost it’s going to act as a carbon sink in the soils, and it builds community resilience, and all these things we’ve been talking about. Maybe that’s first that awareness, but then we have to convince our policymakers.
Brenda Platt: We have to be active citizens, not just consumers. I hate the term consumers. We have to activate our citizen muscle, and it doesn’t have to be a heavy lift. So those of you that are listening say, “Oh my God, policy, no.” Well, don’t worry about it, just make one call to your local city council rep, they actually want to hear from you. You don’t have to run for office. We want you to run for office but you don’t have to do that to make change. Call them, let them know this is important to you. Maybe there’s a state policy or a city ban. But even on a city that’s on a shoestring budget, they can do something. Can they pass a law? We did this in Maryland, by the way, this example. And Maryland passed a law last year that just said, “If you’re in a homeowner’s association complex, you have the right to compost in your backyard or to subscribe to a food scrap collection service provider.” Just get out of the way. Don’t prevent me from doing these things.
Brenda Platt: Or in Washington, D.C., the District of Columbia, passed a bill a few years ago called the Home Composting Incentives act which set up a rebate of $75. So if you took a home composting training program you could then get $75 off the purchase price of buying a home composting bin. That’s not a lot of money for a city to do, to do a training program or to make it easier for people to do the right thing. And buying compost is also an easy lift for a city or a state or a business that’s using soil amendment. So if you have a green purchasing policy in your city, can they include buying compost to amend their local soils? Well, that’ll drive the market. We used to say, or we still say in the recycling world, if you’re not buying back recycled content products you’re not closing the recycling loop. So the same thing’s true for composting. I think there’s lots of ways people can get involved, lots of things that cities can do and elected officials, and it doesn’t have to be everything at once you can start somewhere. There’s just no excuses anymore.
Linda Bilsens B…: Well, compost being something that you can start doing today is really empowering in the sense that you don’t have to wait for somebody else to do something, you can start a compost pile in your backyard if you have one. If you don’t, you can look at starting a worm bin, or you can find other people in your community that are composting and meet other people that are interested in keeping their food waste out of the landfill and all that. So that’s one way that it’s empowering. But over the time that I’ve been at ILSR, seeing what magic can happen when you bring together people into a backyard composting class or a community composting class. The connections that get made in those classes, it’s really been amazing to watch the evolution over many years. Some people who went through our very first Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Composter, a training program back in 2014, they’ve gone on to start their own businesses consulting on starting onsite composting infrastructure. Or, they’ve gone on to start their own food scrap collection companies.
Linda Bilsens B…: It’s amazing because it all comes down to a few weeks together where we shared our geeky love of compost, and now people have gone on to change their life trajectories because of that. And we, obviously, can’t take credit for all of that, it’s just we’re all in this ecosystem together and we can support each other on our journeys. All the different skills that people bring to a community project. We need people who are doing lots of different things, lots of different skills to come together and you never know what’s going to happen. Somebody might end up running for a local government of position, or they might just go on to start their own company. It’s really just beautiful to see what happens.
Luke Gannon: I love that answer. Thank you, Linda. I totally agree. I think we don’t know how many people … How far our reach is. Word of mouth really means a lot. And the changing of one person’s trajectory often means the changing of many people’s trajectory. I think that’s a wonderful answer.
Reggie Rucker: So Brenda, I do, I love that whole concept of just start where you are. And as long as you can sort of frame it in that lens of just starting where you are and doing something, the rest will build on itself. And so that’s an incredibly powerful message to take away from this. I think the last thing we wanted to get to is sort of a question I hear a lot. It’s always one of my favorite questions though because I mean, it’s something that can pull anybody sort of into some next steps. And so curious from you, what is a book that you’ve read? Maybe it’s an article, maybe it’s a podcast. What is something that’s just resonated with you that has really sort of influenced the work that you’re doing today?
Brenda Platt: I can never just give one answer to these questions, I apologize. I just want to start with a book that influenced me many years ago, even when I was still in college. Small is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher. I think it was written in the ’70s. And it’s not just because I’m under five feet tall, but it’s really a book about advancing small scale. At that time the term was appropriate technologies and policies as a superior alternative to the mainstream ethos of bigger is better. I read that before I joined ILSR, but it had a profound impact on me and the work I do, and really aligned with my goals.
Brenda Platt: When it comes to composting, this is where the other answer is. I would say the book that’s been the most influential to me in the composting realm is a book that’s been around for a few decades called the On-Farm Composting Handbook. It’s not just for on-Farm composters, but it really just makes it so easy to understand what composting is and how to do it. And it’s not rocket science but there is some science behind it. You need oxygen and air like I said. You need moisture, you need the right recipes. Not hard, but once you learn this stuff … I mean, I took a composting course maybe 15, 18 years ago where I learned oh, you need oxygen. Well, okay. And man, I just drank the Kool-Aid and I never turned back.
Linda Bilsens B…: Well, I got into composting because I wanted to be able to grow my own food. And so I’ve always come to composting from that perspective. And so Eliot Coleman’s book, the Four-Season Harvest, is something that I think a lot of people who are gardeners or farmers will know. And I think just seeing how it fits into other practices that you can do at your home to produce food for yourself and your family. And then right now, a book that I’m really geeking out about, which also in the vein of food production, The No-Till Organic Vegetable Farm by Daniel Mays of Frith Farm. And they’re such an example of what a regenerative farm looks like so it’s pretty exciting to me.
Reggie Rucker: That’s awesome.
Luke Gannon: It’s one of my favorite questions at the end of episodes too. That I’m going to the library finding that, reading it, it’s very exciting.
Reggie Rucker: And actually one of the reasons why we wanted to pose this question is because then it gives us an opportunity to send people to their local bookstores and pick up these books. It just brings this whole thing full circle. With that, Brenda and Linda, we’re going to thank you both for your time. It was great to have you on here and having us sort of get a sense of how composting is … I think for me personally, I’ve been doing everything I could on my part sort of just individually to try to reduce the amount of waste that I produce, and what I buy, and the things I consume. Whenever I thought about composting I felt like it was a thing that was one, a little too big for me to sort of tackle. And never really sort of thought about it as a solution to climate change, it was really just a thing I thought was the right thing to do. And so having this conversation was incredibly enlightening. Yes, thank you for sharing all of the wisdom.
Luke Gannon: Thank you both so much, Brenda and Linda. A year ago now since I joined ILSR, and reading about your resources on the composting page I have learned an incredible amount, and I just feel so lucky to be working with both of you. And now I have become the crazy person. Going to other people’s houses and they’re not composting I’m like why aren’t you composting? So thank you both so much.
Reggie Rucker: Thanks for joining us you two.
Brenda Platt: It’s been a pleasure.
Linda Bilsens B…: Thanks for having us.
Reggie Rucker: Thank you for tuning in to this episode of the Building Local Power podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. You can find links to everything discussed today by going to and clicking on the show page for this episode. That’s
Luke Gannon: And while you are at, you can sign up for one of our many newsletters and connect with us on social media. We hope you will also take the opportunity to help us out with a gift that helps produce this very podcast and supports the research and resources that we make available for free on our website. Finally, we ask that you let us know how we are doing with a rating or a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you find your podcast. This show is produced by my amazing colleague, Reggie Rucker, and me Luke Gannon. This podcast is edited by Drew Burchbach. Our theme music is Funk Interlude by Dysfunkshunal. And that’s it. I hope you’ll join us again for our next episode of Building Local Power. Have a good day.



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Audio Credit: Funk Interlude by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.

Photo Credit: iStock 

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Luke Gannon

Luke Gannon is the Research and Communications Associate for the Independent Business team.

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As Communications Director at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Reggie develops communications strategies and leads campaigns to build public support for ILSR local power initiatives. Contact Reggie with media inquiries.