Tomorrow we (the interns) head back to Reclaim Urban Farm for our second day of urban farming! Reclaim Urban Farm (www.reclaimurbanfarm.com) is an urban farming business in Edmonton that partners with local landowners to grow veggies using organic, sustainable practices in the heart of the city. We have the privilege of working as interns there roughly 4 days a month this summer. Besides helping out with the practical tasks of urban farming, our goal is to learn more about urban farming practices and ways that we might be able to implement urban farming systems right here in Camrose!
Our first day with Reclaim a few weeks ago allowed Carley and I (Kate) to get up close and personal with composting. We were located at one of Reclaim’s larger plots of land, where there were already veggies growing (I even got some fresh spinach for the salad I had brought for lunch), and one empty plot that was waiting to be planted. We started out by spreading some rich, dark compost over the plot while Ryan, one of the two farmers at Reclaim, rototilled after us. We also spent a good chunk of the day both turning and moving compost, which Reclaim receives from Earth’s General Store just down the street.
While this might not seem like a crazy impactful day, I can confidently say that it really was for a number of reasons. Firstly, Carley and I realized that four years of school does not translate into much upper body strength for shoveling, despite the long papers and furious note taking. Secondly, and more importantly, it was great to see something that we had talked about so much in classes happening right before our eyes. While both Carley and I compost in our homes, we both use the oh-so-convenient system the town provides us with–we throw our household food waste into a compost bin that gets picked up weekly or bi-weekly, depending on the time of year, and somehow, somewhere, the city of Camrose turns our stinky, decomposing, unwanted waste into gorgeous, dark, nutrient-rich dirt that is excellent for gardening. Of course, I understand how the process works. But to see the steps of composting in action, from the lovely, earthy smelling dirt we spread over the plot as a nutrient booster, and compost in the process of decomposing, was an excellent learning experience. I can assure you, the food in the process of decomposing was less of a beautiful thing (we didn’t even know that food could smell quite like that), but it was really interesting to shovel the compost and see how some had already turned into dirt. And then there was the steam! It happened to be a fairly cool day, and as we began shoveling some of the more dense piles of compost, wisps of steam came up from the pile. While we had heard of compost producing heat before due to anaerobic breakdown of food waste, seeing it in action was quite the surprise. That stuff gets hot! Anderson (the other intern) had told us about a heating system that uses the heat produced by anaerobic compost. I was skeptical at first, but can now see how that could really happen.
It may have been a stinky day, and we may have been pretty sore the next day at the office, but it was also incredibly rewarding to finally “be getting our hands dirty” (both literally and figuratively) in sustainable agriculture! It all reminded me of Aldo Leopold’s warning: the two more dangerous things to believe are that food comes from the grocery store, and heat comes from the furnace–we need to be connected and recognize our dependence on the natural world. Likewise, our time at Reclaim reminded me that believing food waste miraculously turns into dirt when the city comes to take it away is perhaps easy, but also dangerous.
All that to say, we are looking forward to the next two days at Reclaim, in which we will be doing some transplanting and market prep. Who knows what else we will learn in the process!