In today’s climate crisis, many people are doing their best to tackle countless man-made obstacles. Such obstacles can be seen through pollution within the air and oceans, damaging numerous accounts of ecosystems, and the emission of dangerous levels of greenhouse gases. However, what many may not know is that these problems can be mitigated through one thing: composting.
Overall, composting prevents beneficial “waste”, such as skins of fruit, bits of leftover salad, or perished food from rotting in non-biodegradable plastic bags and producing methane gas. While composting has a beneficial effect on the earth in many ways, much of the world’s food ends up in landfills. According to a Guardian report, 60 million tons (or $160 billion) worth of produce is thrown away annually in the U.S alone. Additionally, the WorldWildLife Fund reports that consumers worldwide can reduce about 11% of all the greenhouse gas emissions coming from the food system if we stop wasting food. While it may seem a bit daunting to understand how to compost properly, it only takes one person to make a great impact. And now with Justin Munroe, the founder of Grow Nashua, more individuals can positively impact the environment and their community through the act of composting!
It was one spring day that Munroe and his wife were outside gardening that the idea for Grow Nashua dawned on them in conversation. As they were working and cleaning, they wondered how different their lives would be without the ability to grow their own food, sustain their family, and even be outside. The local news had recently been broadcasting about refugees and the troubles they would be dealt with. In an interview, Munroe mentioned that “it would be difficult if I was in a situation where I didn’t have a garden – where I couldn’t grow food or teach kids. We [my wife and I] started to think about options – could we expand and share space in our yard?” This consideration led to visiting and reaching out to other communities and groups within the New England area. Munroe recounts that “[he] put together the start of the idea – to create urban growing spaces, spaces that are open and not being utilized, and connecting with those in need.” After some volunteer time, Munroe began to consider his own community within Nashua. He considered questions like “Are there refugees in Nashua?”, “What are their needs?”, and “What services are being provided to them?”.
To get this idea moving into something productive, Munroe met with the President of United Way of Nashua. This visit helped provide a bit of guidance on what it meant to be a nonprofit and how to get it started. Not only did Munroe leave with advice, but also the opportunity to be fiscally sponsored by them, which allowed Munroe to establish Grow Nashua fairly quickly.
Grow Nashua’s programs include community and school gardens, cooking and gardening classes, and a composting service. The community garden program is designed to teach participants about the “basics” of farming and to encourage them to eat what they grow in Grow Nashua’s garden spaces scattered throughout the city. This program supports local Nashua residents and families along with refugees, especially those from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi, who are now resettled in Nashua.
Currently, they are also building and growing school gardens and teaching curriculum to children, which includes lessons on gardening, nutrition, science, and the ecosystem. Grow Nashua partners with three schools in Nashua: Amherst Elementary, St Christopher, and Mount Pleasant Elementary. Two more schools have the potential of being added soon. The garden teams are inclusive, bringing together teachers with their students and the parents as well! The program creates a sense of sustainability; so many gardens already existed at the schools, but only 35% were actually used. This program refurbishes the gardens and ensures that five teachers are committed to sustaining the garden throughout the year. Having a sufficient amount of teachers is important as it ensures the continuation of the program if someone may retire, switch schools, etc.
Grow Nashua is also a part of a cooking program with the NH Food Bank, called Cooking Matters. This is a week-long course that hosts NH Food Bank staff or volunteers to teach participants how to use the produce that has been growing or harvested from farm to table, and to understand how the full circle encourages a healthy lifestyle and mindset.
Grow Nashua’s composting service works in a fairly simple manner. Members are provided a 5-gallon bucket to be filled up with compostable materials. Grow Nashua staff pick up the bucket once a week and leave members with a clean bucket. Understanding what can be composted is difficult at times, but the system is simplified to prevent frustration and encourage participation. Some examples of compostable materials include food scraps, plant remains, and even dust bunnies! Unfortunately, you cannot compost meat or dairy products in New Hampshire because of state law restrictions. The compost collected through this service is used for the various community garden programs, which then provides nutrients for the schools and community garden spaces. It only takes about 10 months for the compost to break down for use. The service is particularly special though, as it provides jobs to program participants that could be refugees.
It has now been four years since Munroe first had this idea, starting the planning in the winter and the launch occurring in the following months in the spring. Nashua was actually been recognized by UNH’s sustainability institute as a “beacon” community to partner with farm-to- school projects. This institute brought resources and people to start programs in schools, which Grow Nashua does now as well. Having another connection such as this helped provide more financial stability and work within the schools. The presence of Grow Nashua has educated many on food insecurity and how to support their needs.
The topics of community gardens and composting are particularly important in tackling our current climate crisis. Communities characterized as “food deserts” lack adequate access to real food with nutrients; instead, they are provided with fruits and vegetables mass produced from monocultures that lack nutritional value. When community gardens are introduced to these areas, community members are not only educated on real food, but also learn how to be connected to the earth in the way of gardening or farming, which provides a larger appreciation for the food that is presented on their plates. They also learn how their leftovers can be treated as compost rather than disposed of for trash pick-up.
Composting holds a great amount of benefits, not only for the planet, but also for ourselves. It prevents waste from being trapped in plastic bags which causes it to decompose improperly and release methane gas into the air. According to the EPA, the act of composting enriches soil, “helping retain moisture and suppress plant diseases and pests.” From a gardening perspective, it reduces the need for chemical fertilizers so there will be no polluted run-off in the streets or grass harming valuable ecosystems. Overall, composting lowers your carbon footprint by reducing methane emissions from landfills that occur from waste build up that cannot decompose properly.
Another food related issue is food instability and the limited access many have to good, real, and nutritional foods. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as “a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.” In 2018, it was estimated that 1 in 9 Americans were food insecure, making that over 37 million Americans, including more than 11 million children. However, there is a distinction between hunger and food insecurity that must be defined. According to Feeding America, “hunger refers to a personal, physical sensation of discomfort, while food insecurity refers to a lack of available financial resources for food at the household level.” Food insecurity can be confronted through community gardens and composting programs, like Grow Nashua, by harvesting local produce that is jam-packed with nutrients. In this way, community members have more and better access to fresh, healthy food. The food presents less of a financial barrier since it’s grown locally, and community members have the opportunity to even grow it themselves.
It is valuable to encourage gardening education and to emphasize the value that real, local food has to our communities and the environment. Justin Munroe suggests that individuals “seek to be informed more than anything”. He encourages people to have conversations about the environmental challenges we are facing, and to think consciously about our purchases and wasteful tendencies. Having only one planet to call home, it is the duty of community members to continue living connected to the earth and to keep the earth healthy. Like that of Munroe and Grow Nashua, do your part to get involved with your community through gardening, composting, and addressing food insecurity. We don’t have time to waste.
QUICK NOTE: For more information, be sure to visit their website at https://www.grownashua.org/.