Composting Connects Black and Latinx Youth to their Roots

Date: 20 Dec 2021 | posted in: Composting | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

In this episode, host Sophia Hosain is joined by Composting for Community’s intern Alondra Sierra and Nando Rodriguez, environmental facilitator at The Brotherhood Sister Sol in Harlem, New York. Nando shares with us the various ways he engages youth in composting activities. He also dives into the role that environmental practices for Black and Latinx youth play in helping preserve and honor their cultural roots.

Sophia, Nando, and Alondra discuss: 

  • The necessity to create composting programs for youth and how The Brotherhood Sister Sol motivates young people to get involved in composting
  • Nando’s journey into environmentalism and co-inventing a hot box composting bin 
  • How Black and Latinx youth can reclaim their culture and history through environmental practices like community composting
  • The role of composting in the food system and as a means to heal the soil. 

“We want our young people to not live on a planet, but live with the planet. Not take from the planet, but share with the planet. So whatever we take, we give back. That was embedded into our roots―the African, Black, Caribbean, Tainos, Arawaks and Mayans.”

Sophia Hosain: Across the country, the Community Compost Movement is growing. Small scale composting provides communities immediate opportunities for reducing waste, improving local soils, 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.
Sophia Hosain: Welcome back to the Composting for Community Podcast. I’m your host, Sophia Hosain from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, composting for community initiative. Today’s co-host is our fabulous intern Elandra Sierra. In this episode, I’m joined by Nando Rodriguez, an environmental facilitator at the Brotherhood Sister Sol in Harlem, New York.
Sophia Hosain: The Brotherhood Sister Sol, BroSis for short, is a youth development organization that provides long-term support services to black and Latinx youth with a focus on mentorship, education and love. Among their many services is a comprehensive environmental program.
Sophia Hosain: Today, Nando shares with us the various ways he engages youth in the composting process. He also dives into the role that environmental practices play for black and Latinx youth in helping preserve and honor their cultural roots. Let’s dive in. Hey everyone.
Nando Rodriguez: Hello.
Alondra Sierra: Hello.
Nando Rodriguez: Thank you for having me.
Sophia Hosain: Awesome. We’re so glad you could join us today Nando. Just to hop in, can you tell us a little bit more about your role at Brotherhood Sister Sol as the environmental coordinator?
Nando Rodriguez: Yeah. So I start off with this position was not here before I got here, and they hired me with the intent mentions that I create the environmental program at BroSis because of my experience and my reputation working with young people in environments. So I came into the organization in 1995 as a member and I graduated the program in 1998, went off to of college.
Nando Rodriguez: And my summertimes, I came back to lead a summer youth employment program with the organization working in a community garden. So it was just a summer program. And in 2005, I joined the organization fulltime. And then in 2007, the young people that I was working with in the summer wanted to continue working with me during the year.
Nando Rodriguez: And that’s where the environmental program at BroSis kind of began in 2007, because seven young people from the summer program out of 15, wanted to continue working in the garden, and learning and experiencing more programs with environmental practices and justice and career path. That’s where we began the environmental program.
Nando Rodriguez: And since then, it was just a program. I was a facilitator and as the program grew from seven to 15, then to 20 and to 30, and then they grew from just one chapter or one group to three and four groups. And then that’s when the environmental program became, and I became the environmental coordinator because now I had staff under me and I had a lot of different chapters within the program growing and the environmental coordinator.
Nando Rodriguez: So now I maintain and lead and manage all of these programs. So one of them is called Gaia Explorers, which we work with the young kids eight years old. The second one is called Junior Gaia, which are middle school kids, sixth grade, seventh grade and eighth grade learning about the environment.
Nando Rodriguez: Then we have our leadership crew, which is the high school kids, which is called Gaia Renaissance. They are the ones who work the most with me, but the biggest group and also who engage in a lot of the environmental justice and practices in our community.
Nando Rodriguez: And then we have a Green Volunteer, which is a tier where kids, different schools, different programs, agencies, volunteer groups that want to come in and do a one day job or a week job or something like that. So we call them Green Volunteers.
Nando Rodriguez: And then we have our fifth group is the Gaia Alumni crew, which are young people who graduate the program and go off to college and then in their summer they want to come back and still participate in our environmental program. So we give them opportunities to help lead our summer program or give them some opportunities to work in the field as a part-time job with some of the job proportions that we have.
Sophia Hosain: It’s super cool to be able to offer that kind of green learning environment in the middle of a massive city. And I’m wondering, what kinds of stuff do you do with the youth at the garden? What kinds of projects do they work on with you?
Nando Rodriguez: We have them engaging in, first of all, it’s kind of propagating and pruning, planting plants, vegetables, herbs, harvesting, fruits, peaches, pairs, apples, harvesting basil, collard greens and packaging them and giving them out to the community. We have a youth market where we buy produce from local farms and they are the ones who are managing the market.
Nando Rodriguez: So they are selling these produce to our local community and teaching our community about fresh food access and fresh food recipes. We have the young people cooking recipes with some of these things to learn how to cook fresh recipes and fresh food items so that they can learn the nutrition values and learn these different way of cooking.
Nando Rodriguez: But it’s also an empowerment for them to kind of be independent. A lot of these kids never knew how to cook or even tried cooking. Some of them do from their culture and their families. So they kind of implement a little different recipes to it.
Nando Rodriguez: We also have them doing a lot of construction, teaching young women and young men how to use power tools, which they love to use, the drill guns, circular saws, reciprocal saws. They learn how to say all these different languages. We also have them do a lot of construction work in the garden using all the garden tools.
Nando Rodriguez: And then one of our key pieces is also composting. We collect a lot of food waste from our local community and residents, and sometimes we collect it from our local juicy bars, and these young people will come in and process it and put it into our compost bins. We use the hot box model, which is a model that I am privileged and happy to say that I am part of the inventor of this hot box.
Nando Rodriguez: When I was a kid, as a teenager, I became an inventor of this hot box. And it was such an amazing feeling to have my name on a patent, which was like, wow, I’m a teenager and I’m an inventor or part inventor. But our kids are working with these hot boxes and processing composts.
Nando Rodriguez: Then we give away some of the composts to local gardeners, local residents. And there’s a lot of other projects that we also do here and there, but that’s in a nutshell, some of the things that they do.
Alondra Sierra: Nando, I want to hear more about the hot box composting bin that you part of inventing. Could you explain what that is to those listening, and what brought about its invention?
Nando Rodriguez: Yeah, the hot box is a cubic yard design. So it’s a three feet by three feet by three feet box with six poles in front of it where we would put in PVC pipes that goes from the front all the way to the back. And in these PVC pipes, there are hose to allow oxygen to come into the compost system.
Nando Rodriguez: So as we all in the compost world know that if you’re composting, you have to turn your compost so that it can get oxygen so it doesn’t become anaerobic. We want it aerobic compost system so that it can have the ecosystem living in them and process all the food and turn it into what we call black and gold.
Nando Rodriguez: This hot box, the beauty of it is that we don’t have to turn the compost bin. When I was a teenager, I used to call this, this is the lazy person compost system, because all you have to do is mix the browns and the greens, the nitrogen and the carbon in the beginning. And when you pour it in, you leave it there.
Nando Rodriguez: So if you fill up the hot box in a matter of a couple of days or a couple of weeks, you can leave it in the compost bin for about two and a half months without turning it because the PVC pipes work like oxygen straws, in other words, or oxygen tanks. So they pull in this cool air from the outside.
Nando Rodriguez: And as heat rises, it continues to suck in through the PVC pipes, into the compost bin, so we don’t have to turn the bin or turn the compost at all. So after two months, two and a half months, you can sift the compost and everything has been decomposed for the most part.
Nando Rodriguez: And this bin came about back when I was in high school, I joined this organization called Oprah Road of New York. And they were in the midst of composting with different systems. They were doing the three bin system. They were doing the tumbler, they had a small little window ideal system.
Nando Rodriguez: And then we as teenagers, well, me specifically, I’m always thinking about what’s easier solution to a problem? So they had this idea of putting in these wooden containments that kind of bring in the oxygen so that the PVCs were actually made out of wood and it was in six, it like was four.
Nando Rodriguez: So then we came in and started throwing out different ideas and we explored, experimented with different type of material, experimented with different type of designs until we found the right system to work with. And then I started doing experiments with this. So I had six bins in the lower east side where one of them, I had it with leaves.
Nando Rodriguez: Leaves that we collected from the garden and from local parks with food waste. And another bin I had wood chips and then in another bin, I had horse manure with wood chips and food waste. And I tried all these different systems and followed it every day for three months, tested the temperature and tested the quality. I moved the compost around to see what it looked.
Nando Rodriguez: And they all came out with pretty good readings and pretty good numbers. They all did decompose within two to three months, some faster than the others. And they all reached high numbers. So this system in the composting world is considered a thermophilic system, which they reach high temperatures of 180 degrees for a couple of days.
Nando Rodriguez: And then it stays at 160 for about maybe a week, and then it goes down to 120 where you really want your compost bin to reach for about another week, a week and a half. So yeah, this hot box has been a hot commodity. We have it now in different green thumb gardens.
Nando Rodriguez: We have it in Earth Matters in Governors Island here in New York city. We also have it in schools, some schools who are doing composting with their young people, we have it in those systems as well. So yeah, I think I answered that question, maybe.
Sophia Hosain: Yeah, that’s cool that you are able to make your own. I know there’s a lot of DIY systems out there, but to do it with the aerated static perforated pipes is super cool. Especially because for anybody out there who hasn’t turned a compost pile before, it’s a sweaty affair, right? The compost is heavy and it’s wet.
Sophia Hosain: And so creating that solution for labor is really awesome. And I’m wondering for those of you who have not turned a compost pile before, it’s also not the most glamorous job, right? And I’m wondering how have you managed to engage youth with the composting process and kind of show them how important it is in the larger food system?
Nando Rodriguez: That’s a great question. Dealing with young people is a task in itself, especially teenagers. Having teenagers work, physical work is also another task in itself. So I think my experience for the years that I’ve been working with young people, I would say my best solution to getting them to do anything, is feeding them.
Nando Rodriguez: I promise I’ll feed them some pizza and I get them some drinks, some juice or whatever, or I’ll promise a burger, or maybe a smoothie afterwards. I feel like you can get teenagers to do anything when you promise them a happy meal. And not a McDonald’s happy meal, but just a happy meal. So yeah, that’s the one thing that I would do first.
Nando Rodriguez: And then once I get them to kind of like be engaged into the process, I think what has worked for me to have young people really be a part of this composting world is teaching them about the compost part process itself, but to teach them all the little pieces of it. And I think the first part of it is letting them feel a part of it, letting them feel like they are a key part in providing the environment, the ecosystem.
Nando Rodriguez: When they seem to be heroes or seem to be like a key part of the process of the system, of the ecosystem, I feel like then they have pride in it. They get a sense of pride for themselves. They have a self-esteem empowerment for themselves. And just talking to them about what you’re doing for our key workers of the compost is the worms and the rollie pollies and the millipedes centipedes, things that they are afraid of at first.
Nando Rodriguez: We talk to them about how not to be afraid. So we’ll play around with the worms first and teach them how there’s no reason to be scared of it. Kind of like touching it. And they’ll be scared to either put it in their palm and going through those fears.
Nando Rodriguez: Then after we establish a connection with the ecosystem that lives within compost, then I start to teaching them about what do these insects need to survive? How can we build their home, their community, their neighborhood, their city? Each one of these bins for them is a whole city, think about it that way.
Nando Rodriguez: So let’s add some food, let’s add some water, let’s add some warmth to them. Let’s give them some oxygen. So we start teaching them we’re building this kind of like community for them. It becomes kind of like a game, or it becomes kind of like a hero complex for them like let’s create this for them. And then I get them to start working on it.
Nando Rodriguez: The last thing that I would do is everybody who’s been in composting you know that there is moments of smelly process, a very dirty smelly component to composting that a lot of people probably feel like that’s the worst thing about composting. That’s the last thing that I teach the young people. So when I’m working with the food waste, I try to get the freshest thing that we can.
Nando Rodriguez: Teach them how to break it down, teach them how this is nitrogen. And then you mix it with the browns to get a nice little recipe for the building blocks of this environment for our new found friend, macroorganisms and microorganisms. And then once they get there, then we’re making it, they feel good about it.
Nando Rodriguez: Then I start bringing in the smelly parts so that they’re already in the process and everything is good. Now it’s like, okay, now we got to just do the work. Now think of this as a mindful scenario where you spiritually feel good about providing for an ecosystem. Now let’s think about it as a physical plus for yourself.
Nando Rodriguez: Let’s do this as a workout. Let’s get all this messy and smelly food waste, and let’s just think of it as like a nice little workout to just cut it up and turn it up and put it in a bin. So now it becomes a mind, body, and soul type of job that they feel proud about.
Nando Rodriguez: And then I have them help other ones to kind of bring them in. So teenagers can bring their own peers in. So if I could get one hooked on, they’ll get two more hooked on, and now we’ve got a team. So, that’s the way we do it.
Alondra Sierra: That’s great. Nando, you sound so passionate about the work that you do, about environmental practices and working with youth. And I want to know where this passion is rooted in. Could you walk us through your background and how you got started in the environmental space?
Nando Rodriguez: Sure, going deep into my roots of stories here. So I’m born and raised in lower East side of New York city. My parents are Dominicans and whenever we used to go back to my parents’ country, there was always a trip to the farm. There was always a meal or always a visiting, a family or whatever, and always had to deal with going to the farm.
Nando Rodriguez: So my grandfather owned a very large farm in the middle of the country, the city called Bonao, in the state called Monsenor Nouel, which is in the middle of the country. And my grandfather’s farm was right on the outskirts of the city called Bonao. And his farm, whenever I went there, it was always a boring feeling to go to, to deal with the people and being in the party atmosphere.
Nando Rodriguez: His house had no TV, he had no games or no toys. So me as a little kid going to this farm, I had to find my own entertainment. So what I used to do is I used to go and travel and explore the farm itself. So finding my way through the different crops that he had growing, he had cacaos. He had oranges. He had chinolas, he had coffee.
Nando Rodriguez: He had coconut trees. He had a swarm of different crops that I can’t even think of right now, but, pineapples, everything. So for me, it was a curiosity, but it was also like walking through a maze, going through the platano farms and the guineo farms and finding my way or around it and running into animals in some sort of way.
Nando Rodriguez: They weren’t wild animals. They were part of the farm. But at the same time, they lived freely throughout the farm. So I would run through the platano field and run into like a family of ducks where the mother was walking and the little ducks were walking behind her.
Nando Rodriguez: And I would stop and gaze at the beauty of these little ducklings, just kind of swaddling through the platano farms and seeing it all the time was like, I want one of those. They’re so cute. You just wanted to pet one. So I tried a pet one and I saw the mother come after me, and there was a battle. It was a fight.
Nando Rodriguez: I’m not going to win this because she’s going to peck me. So I would go walk around and I’d see a chicken with her little chicks, try to catch a chicken. They were was so hard to catch, it was impossible. Go to my grandfather’s pig and see the baby pigs and the big pigs and see how smelly it was. But at the same time, just curiosity and just kind of trying to get closer to them.
Nando Rodriguez: And they would scare me because they were like… Oink so hard whenever somebody comes. They’re looking for food. To me, I’m thinking they want to bite me and stuff like that. So I’m running away. So it was a passion came from the curiosity of nature, just going through this farm and taking a cacao seed off of the tree, opening it up and eating this white fruit that was on the inside.
Nando Rodriguez: And then learning about this white fruit becoming chocolate at some point down the line. It was fascinating. And tasting the coffee grounds off the plant and finding it so bitter and so nasty. And how does this become coffee? And then taking a chinola fruit and seeing how the hard shell looks just an orange, but it’s a hard shell.
Nando Rodriguez: And when you open it, it’s such a sour taste on the inside, but it’s a really good sour taste. So the curiosity of just learning about nature and farm and the environment and going through this farm gave me the courage and also the lack of fear of wanting to get dirty and get my hands dirty, and go through the mud and go through these different crops.
Nando Rodriguez: And to give you a short story too, say a very inspirational story that I went through. One of the workers of my grandfather lived on the farm and he lived in a remote little shack on the other side of the rice crop that he had, that my grandfather had. And you know how rice is grown, is grown in a very swampy, muddy piece of land.
Nando Rodriguez: It’s always got to be wet. That’s how rice has grown. And he used to maintain it. And we had to get to him one time, my uncles who lived in the farm also was tasked with delivering food to him. And I was bored and I wanted to ride the horse and they were going to take the horses. I was like I want to ride a horse. Leave one of the horses behind so I could ride it.
Nando Rodriguez: And they’re like, no, you want to ride the horse? You’ve got to come with us. And I was like, all right. So I came with them and we went all the way so far away. And this guy was living in this small shack on his own and we gave him food. On my way back, I was just curious about, who lives there with him? Why does he live there?
Nando Rodriguez: How could he want to live that way? And I was told that that’s just how he loved to live. He lived off the grid, he was fed, he had his shelter. He had a roof, he had no worries, no bills, no necessity of anything. He had his machete for his protection and he lived happy.
Nando Rodriguez: He lived there for years and he just maintained his piece of land and provided for my grandfather and my grandfather provided for him. And just knowing that peace of mind and peace of nature being with you and being around nature and just living like that, just always stuck with me as part of like, this is beauty.
Nando Rodriguez: This is nature at its purest moment with humans, and I just love that idea. And ever since then, I just wanted to give back to nature. A lot of my friends call me nature boy in a lot of ways. And I always tell them, I take care of the environment, the environment takes care of me. And that’s how I think about it.
Sophia Hosain: What a beautiful story, and I love the way… I can picture everything that you’re saying as you’re talking. You definitely have a gift with storytelling. But one thing that I really connect to is food as the gateway to environmental work and growing up and recognizing the ability of food to be able to heal the body or provide the body with nutrients and sustenance.
Sophia Hosain: And the thing that I didn’t get to until I was older was realizing the role that we have to play in the food system in returning that nutrients back to the soil and back to the ground. And I’m wondering if you could tell us a little bit more about how you came to realize the connection and the integral piece that compost plays in food systems, in our relationship with food and maybe how that plays out in the environmental work you do with youth in New York.
Nando Rodriguez: Yeah, I think my moment of learning how compost becomes a healing to our environment, to our soil was when I had to… That organization that I was working with in lower east side, we were working on a piece of land that was contaminated.
Nando Rodriguez: And it was contaminated because it used to be a bus depot and there was a lot of oil being spilled or gas and petroleum being spilled into the soil. So for us to even begin to convert this vacant, contaminated land into a beautiful garden, we had to excavate and bring in new soil. And just the amount of soil that we brought in made me wonder, where do you… We can’t always have good soil everywhere.
Nando Rodriguez: There’s got to be a way we can fix the soil, re-nutrient the soil or heal the soil that we need and use. And learning about composting gave me that joy and that proudness of this is not only a environmental justice, but it’s an environmental need. It’s an environmental key piece of keeping our environment healthy, is the soil.
Nando Rodriguez: And the fact that composting can actually fix any type of, or most type of contaminated soil was a really astonishing epiphany for me, in a sense like of whenever we need to fix something, composting is a key to fixing soil in your ground.
Nando Rodriguez: So if you want to grow food and grow all these crops and have nutrients and food access to your community and you don’t have a location for it, let’s try to fix the soil where you think that is damaging or whatever it is. And then we can grow a farm.
Nando Rodriguez: That was very astonishing for me to realize and learn to the point where it’s like, composting is one of the major key practices that if everybody knew and everybody did in our communities, we will be giving back to our environment and providing food access for many people to come.
Nando Rodriguez: Knowing that fresh soil, specifically composting, helps that for our farms and for our crops for our gardens is a very key piece. And learning that was a reason for composting being a part of our program. No matter what we do, composting has to be a part of our program.
Alondra Sierra: Okay, Nando. So on the topic of youth programming, I was wondering why is it important to engage and educate specifically black and Latinx youth on environmental practices and gardening composting? Because it’s my understanding that Brotherhood Sister Sol focuses on black and Latinx communities, is that right?
Nando Rodriguez: Yes. Well, I mean, our focus is for the black and Latinx community because of the history of our black and Latinx community, is the history of culture being taken away and our roots being stripped away from the history that our ancestors have gone through.
Nando Rodriguez: And because of all of that history that our ancestors have gone through, a lot of our roots and practices and culture of being in tune with nature has been taken away way or forgotten by this following of generations that we are going through now.
Nando Rodriguez: And a lot of our ancestors who have come here from different places around our black and African roots, they try very hard to keep a lot of the culture alive. And there was a big movement on seeds and trying to survive and bring seeds from our communities and our countries with them, with the women, braided into their hair so that they can bring that culture and those vegetables and those fruits and that culture with them.
Nando Rodriguez: Because our food is part of our lives, is part of our culture. Food is a big piece of how culture survives within communities. So teaching young people to be back into an environment and back into the gardening, back into nature, back into food, back into providing back to our environment has always been a a part of our history, a part of our culture.
Nando Rodriguez: And I feel for us, we feel like that is a way to bring back or hopefully spiritually bring back righteousness to our young people, bring back the goal of giving and taking. So if you’re going to take from nature, eat a plant, eat a tree or whatever, or eat fruit from a tree, we have to give back.
Nando Rodriguez: And for me, the environmental program is that is this way of teaching culture, trying to bring back historical practices and keeping historical culture alive within our young people, but also to bring pride into the work and the efforts and the fight that our ancestors have done to bring, to continue our culture alive, but also to bring that piece of nature, that piece of history, that piece of livelihood of human beings being a part of a living ecosystem.
Nando Rodriguez: So Gaia, in a lot of our programs we use a name Gaia as the name in the Greek mythology that the Greeks are given the planet. Because if you give something a name, you give it a soul, you give it a being, you give it livelihood, you give it existence. And we in our programs, want our young people to not live on a planet, but live with a planet.
Nando Rodriguez: Not take from the planet, but share with the planet. So whatever we take, we give back. And that was embedded into our roots, in the African roots, in the black roots, in the Caribbean roots, in the Tainos, in the Arawaks, in the Mayans. The fact that we share with our planet is part of our culture rather than just take and abuse.
Nando Rodriguez: So the reason why we specifically want to teach environmental programming, environment justice to our young people, black and Latinox is because we want them to go back and touch a little bit about where their cultures come from.
Sophia Hosain: I love that. It’s so beautiful to think about the tradition and ritual of food as a culture bearer and yeah, have your mission partly be continue that foundational connection to something that has brought so much identity and so much meaning to culture in the past. I really connect to that.
Sophia Hosain: And also it’s just fun for me to think about you doing this in New York city, because it’s such a urban environment, right? And so I’m wondering in light of new studies, new information, new news, new environmental catastrophes happening that are specifically related to climate change, has the way that you’re engaging with youth or has your environmental programming shifted at all to meet the growing environmental concerns?
Sophia Hosain: Or have you noticed any more specific or direct ties between compost and climate change that you could talk about?
Nando Rodriguez: I wouldn’t say too much of a shift, more of like the way I to think of my program a little bit similar to many, but also different. It’s like you go to a lake, right? And you throw a pebble in the lake and that rock that you throw, that little pebble that you throw is like a ripple effect, right? So that ripple effect slowly gets to the edges of the lake.
Nando Rodriguez: The bigger the rock, the bigger the ripple, right? I like to think of us as this small pebble in a large lake and throwing a pebble in our community, so in West Harlem, right? So we are the pebble being thrown in West Harlem. And as a small ripple effect, try to create change or create awareness into our community that hopefully ripples out to other nearby communities and continues and continues and continues.
Nando Rodriguez: So when we talk about climate change, we talk about gorilla planting trees, nurturing on trees. The ripple effect is providing support to our local farms. So we try to engage and giving them support by selling their produce, going to other community gardens and helping them with the composting system or helping them plant the tree, or being a location where you could come and collect or pick up a tree from The Million Tree Initiative that was going on in the city.
Nando Rodriguez: So being this kind of like pilot of new ideas, new environmentally sustainable practices when it comes to like recycling and reusing, when it comes to solar power and wind power or aquaculture. We don’t mass use any of these ideas. We do small parts of all of it, so that when people come to us, it’s like a small ripple in their minds that they could think of sustainability within their community.
Nando Rodriguez: So hopefully they go to their community and they implement some of the things that they’ve seen from us. So if we want to affect climate change in a certain way, I think it starts from home. And what I like to teach our young people is what we’re learning here, I want you to practice it in your house, teach your parents, teach your siblings.
Nando Rodriguez: Separate your waste, start composting, start reusing some of the stuff you have, start changing how you use energy, start being less… Start to think about reducing and rather than throwing away and being so much of a consumer and just buying, buying, buying. Think of many different ways that you can start to change at home, and that effect will trickle down to your siblings, to your cousins, to your friends.
Nando Rodriguez: So I always think of when I’m trying to combat a big environmental issue, I feel like that if it’s not embedded in your home first, in your self first, it’s going to be hard for it to really affect in other places. And this is just my way of thinking. Like that lake idea, throwing a pebble in the lake. If you had 20 people and they all threw pebbles in the lake, now you have a lot of ripple effects that connect to each other.
Nando Rodriguez: But start from yourself and then invite friends to come to the lake and throw a pebble, invite… So that metaphor is kind of like, you start from you and then you start inviting. So in the same way, half of the environmental program, we only had seven kids. And those seven kids invited a friend each and became 15 or 14. We had this one young lady this summer, she’s a senior graduating.
Nando Rodriguez: And she goes to a Catholic school and she was presenting at her school. And she presented our environmental program as a key changing of her life, that she really enjoyed doing her whole high school, elementary career. Because she’s been with us since she was in the elementary program and been a part of the environmental program for eight years.
Nando Rodriguez: And when she shared this information to all her young peers in her school this summer, we hired to work with us for the summer about seven students of her school that she don’t even know who they are. But they all heard from her to come work with us. And now they are all going to be Gaia Renaissance members, which are social environmental key changers of our community.
Nando Rodriguez: And that I feel is how I like to combat climate and environmental injustice and environmental issues is by teaching or helping one person at a time in our community so that they can help their people in their communities.
Alondra Sierra: That’s great. That’s actually a wonderful transition to my next question for you Nando. One of the goals of the Composting for Community Podcast is inspire and motivate other community composters. Is there anything else you would like to share with our audience?
Alondra Sierra: I know you’re full of… And you’ve already shared so many inspiring stories, but is there anything else you’d like to share with the audience that you think would be inspiring, whether it be on composting, food justice, anything like that?
Nando Rodriguez: In the composting world, not everybody, but… I mean, not only a composting, just in the environmental world, there’s a lot of community gardens that always have this fear of young people being in their space. And there’s a lot of people who don’t, who are encouraging young people to work in their gardens and farms and whatever.
Nando Rodriguez: There is a lack of space for young people in general in all of our cities. And I think that our community, our environmental community, our composting community, we have an opportunity where young people are looking for something to do and be a part of something.
Nando Rodriguez: I think that the more our environmental community focused on creating programs, creating opportunities for young people to be a part of, we may be helping the next generation of environmental justice pioneers. I think that however we can, whatever we need to do to get young people employed, fed and opportunity for them to be a part of the changes is where we need to focus a lot of our energy.
Nando Rodriguez: It’s good to have all of these environmental programs and have adults running it, but I think we… That’s how I started as a young person and my mentor, Paula Hewitt and Tim Rutgers, gave me leadership roles as a teenager.
Nando Rodriguez: And if it wasn’t for those leadership roles, I don’t think I would be where I’m at now because they gave me that leadership role, that opportunity to share my ideas and practice it and teach others of what I’m thinking. And just gave me an opportunity, they gave me a trial. Even if it failed, at least I failed with my own idea and practicing.
Nando Rodriguez: A lot of people don’t like to give young people the opportunity to give their ideas and fail or just give them a chance to share their ideas. And I feel like in our environmental communities, we should open and try our best to have as many opportunities and programs where young people take a leadership role, but also be a part of the movement in a strong position.
Sophia Hosain: Wow, I love that. I mean, it’s so true, right? This world is not for us. It’s for everybody to come and everything and all the living creatures that will come after us, right? And so to create and pass on that stewardship from a young age, I think is going to be, as you were saying, absolutely instrumental in the success of our kids and the health and wellbeing of our kids, but also of our planet, and realizing that there’s no way to separate those things, right?
Sophia Hosain: I love the way that you talk about our existence here as part of the ecosystem of life and that it’s seamless, right? There’s no place where one ends and the other begins. So it’s been so lovely talking to you and hearing your stories.
Sophia Hosain: And I want to thank you so much for the work that you’re doing with youth and for the work that you’re doing inspiring these kids to get into it, to get passionate about it, to grow food, to share food with their community, to recycle nutrients in their environment, to become environmental stewards.
Sophia Hosain: I mean, I wish I could clone you and make 100 more and put you everywhere all across the United States. Really, it’s been such a privilege to talk with you. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Nando Rodriguez: Thank you. Thank you for having me and the cloning is what I’m trying to do with these young people I have around me. So hopefully they are a bunch of me’s or more than me for the future. So thank you for having me and allowing me to share my knowledge in whatever capacity people can take it.
Nando Rodriguez: Because, we’re not always teaching everybody because everybody knows a lot of things, but sometimes an inspiration comes from the weirdest stories that you can hear. So I hope something inspires someone to do something else, something more in their area. So thank you for having me.
Sophia Hosain: It was a pleasure. All right, until next time folks, take care.
Nando Rodriguez: Bye-bye.
Sophia Hosain: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Composting for Community Podcast, from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. We’ll be back again next month with a new episode. Our theme music is, I Don’t Know from Grapes.
Sophia Hosain: 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.

Image Credit: Nando Rodriguez

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Follow Sophia Hosain:
Sophia Hosain

Sophia Hosain was the Baltimore Lead for ILSR's Composting for Community project from September 2020 to November 2022.

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Follow Linda Bilsens Brolis:
Linda Bilsens Brolis

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