Composting at the NATO Protests in Chicago

Have you ever gone to a concert or a convention or some other large event and marveled at the staggering amounts of waste generated? I’ve been particularly wishing more of that waste was composted. And what do you know? Just as I was thinking about this, guest Root Simple blogger Nancy Klehm happened to send me a post on this very subject. If only every event had a compost tsar! Here’s Nancy:

I am obsessed with urban soil health, so when I got a phone call in mid May from Steven of the Seeds of Peace Collective, I realized a soil ship had floated in. Seeds of Peace is a collective of accomplished cooks and trained street medics, based in Missoula, who provide delicious home cooked food in support of non-violent social movements. They were in Chicago to set up a free community kitchen to serve thousands of NATO conference protestors. Steven said they needed my assistance with their food waste as they had already overwhelmed a small urban garden’s compost bin.

It was late, so I waited until morning and drove my pickup to their site – a parking lot between a community center and an auto parts store. The scene was impressive: a maroon biodiesel school bus with windows dressed in curtains screen printed with frying pans and butcher knives and the largest wok and cast iron pan I have ever seen. A purple tent stretched from the bus into the lot overhanging a to-code outdoor kitchen with multiple burner stoves, wash sinks, prepping area and boxes of produce, mostly organic. At least 12 people stood prepping food for the day. Gallons and gallons of salad and stir fry ingredients were being tossed and mixed in 30 gallon coolers with small wooden oars.

Every day for a week, I picked up the 100 or so gallons of food waste a day and provided them with extra large garbage cans to pour their waste into. Their kitchen was three miles from the rallying area. Once the food was prepared, they would pack a flat bed with it and a few tables and trundle off to the park to serve their healthy, delicious food free of charge.

One pick up was an entire garbage can of delicious looking chickpea and sweet potato curry that had fermented in the sun due to the police blocking their passage to the Park. It made me cry to compost that delicious looking curry. I had to use a couple of bales of straw and dumpstered cardboard from my carbon stockpile to take care of so much nitrogenous waste. Over the past month, the pile, well integrated and covered with a thick layer of straw reached thermophilic temperatures and now is in its mesophilic stage. Most of the food is just residual moisture now and the pile has dropped in volume by at least 20% due to composting and evaporation. So much future soil!

Thanks Steven, Sarah, Patrick and the rest of you of the Seeds of Peace Collective. May you meet with strong hearts and hands on the road.

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  1. Another group that feeds people, recycles, composts, sets up water systems, and latrines on a grand scale is the annual Rainbow Gathering held every year at this time in our great National Forest System. They do all of this working on a consensus system with no one in charge. All of this for free, unless of course you want to volunteer, or donate money or food. Amazing. This years gathering is taking place now in the Cherokee National Forest in north eastern Tennessee.
    ( ). For another take see my post from the gathering in New Mexico a couple of years ago-
    Excuse my shameless self advertising.

    • Please self advertise–your blog is a great resource. Back in the 90s I went to the Rainbow gathering in Arizona with a writer friend–Doug Harvey–sadly nobody was interested in a story about the gathering. It seems to take place under the radar while all the interest is in Burning Man. It is amazing how many people the Rainbow folks feed and how long they’ve been doing it.

  2. Seeds of Peace travels from place to place and is in service to many groups and events, not just one sort of festival. They are adaptable and have been doing this since the late 80’s… formed at an anti-nuke rally.

  3. I love this post. I am so glad that there are people out there doing incredible things, and there are people like Nancy who will go to the trouble to save all that food from the landfill, and actually let it enrich the soil instead.

    I posted on my fb wall that I would take people’s veg based food waste – I got a response indicating that I was a little too ‘out there’.

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