What factors support and promote home-based food-growing in four neighbourhoods in SW Sheffield?

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Composting and Charts #23 and #24

Every gardening project needs good compost.

Among the growers of my cohort composting is very popular. The percentages of surveyed households that compost or have done so are indicated in Chart #23. The two neighbourhoods that grow the most, N#1 and N#4, have the highest incidence of household composting, and incidentally are also the neighbourhoods with the most land. Composting can take up valuable space.

There have been several initiatives by private citizens and community groups over the years to organise composting on a community scale. At one point funding was provided to set up an anaerobic composting system for Sheffield, but when the funding ended so did the project. Unfortunately, the council’s efforts in composting are meager: a small green bin programme, with no provision for the return of composted material, and reduced price composters is the extent of it. Many suspect that the waste contract with the Veolia incinerator is at the root of the problem.

There is a small amount of compost for sale through the City Farm, certainly not enough to supply a serious expansion of home-based food-growing. Several of my cohort mentioned being frustrated by the lack of dependable supply there. This leaves individuals to source compost at B&Q or other garden centers or to make their own. The composters available through the council contract with Veolia at a reduced rate are currently the best option as they solve two problems at once, reducing the waste stream and producing high quality soil improvement. The units are reasonably space efficient, but people need training in their use.

Other councils in the area also have not learned how to deal with composting.

“One sustainability official … had recently consulted with Bradford Planning about the potential for developing a localized ‘community’ composting system using the council’s park waste as one waste source. He was told that Composting was an industrial activity that would have to occur in the industrial part of the city. He commented that this made a mockery of the now widely embraced planning principle of mixed uses.” (Howe 2002)

Compost is a challenge on the individual level as well. Interviewee #6 said,

“I don’t have a car to get compost. That was why I got a composter; every day I throw away vegetable peelings. It got mushy at the bottom over winter but the stuff at the top had only been in there a couple of days.”

She gave up on it and mentioned that having free compost delivery would be a huge help. She had taken a bus to B&Q to have a bag of compost delivered which cost more than the bag of compost.

Chart #24 shows the percentage of households surveyed in each neighbourhood that indicated they would grow more if they could get free compost delivery. N#3 is the neighbourhood with the smallest gardens. One possible solution to this problem is division of labour. Interviewee #29, a resident of N#2, specializes in composting. While most of the gardeners with allotments bring compost from the allotment to the home garden, he does the reverse. When asked how his home garden interacts with his allotment,

“I take my composting there. It was part of an art project. Set up a composting scheme; gift the compost to different projects. The artwork is the gift and the potential for it to improve things…”

He grows nothing at home but keeps multiple compost bins going. Compost could be traded for produce with his neighbours.

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