… If you’re picturing me sitting on my couch or aimlessly walking around the HaGadol Mall in Petach Tikva every Tuesday then you really don’t know me. Okay, maybe I like to do these things occasionally, but I’ve had one day off and I’m already itching for something to do: cue PTK’s Department of Environmental Education (DEE) and my first day working with compost!
I found the Environmental Education Department on the municipality’s website and decided I had nothing to lose by reaching out. Conveniently the office is a five-minute bus ride from Yeshurun, so I planned for an introductory meeting one day after school. I met with Sigal, the head of the Department, and, despite the language barrier, she agreed to let me volunteer for the year. We agreed that my position would be ever-evolving, spending the next couple of months dipping my feet in some new projects and finding my niche.
Last week I met with the full office staff and was introduced to my current supervisor Yoel, who graduated from UC Berkeley back in the 70’s with a degree focusing on sustainability and natural resources management—before it was popular to do so. He speaks English fluently, and even teaches a Sustainability 101 course at Karmi’el College in English, so I am grateful to have him as a mentor. I knew we would get along from the moment I met him, when he handed me a newly published Sustainability: The Basics by Peter Jacques as we contemplated different pillars of sustainability. Sidenote: English books are expensive and hard to come by in Petah Tikva.
Today I had my first so-called test run with the team, and visited three different kindergartens throughout PTK to check on composters. Essentially, DEE started working with a handful of schools last year on composting projects; Yoel invited one teacher from each participating school to learn about the practice, and he set up composters at each location. Once a month he goes to the schools and checks the progress of the compost and to make sure the “host teachers” are properly composting organic materials.
Before I go any further though, let me backtrack and define composting for those who don’t know or think I’m referring to a sugary fruit dessert (that would be compote). Compost is “decayed plant and organic material that is commonly used as a soil amendment to improve plant growth,” a definition taken from NLC’s Sustainable Cities Institute (where I used to intern this past Spring). This means that dried leaves, yard waste sans thick branches, leftover food ranging from coffee grounds to egg shells, sawdust and ash, and more can be layered based on color (greens and browns) to create humus (soil rich organic matter) over a period of 3-6 months depending on the weather (faster in summer, shorter in winter). It might sound complicated, but with super accessible plastic composting bins and available water supply, you can make scent-free compost at home. I know it sounds impossible- but compost, if made correctly, has no foul smell or any smell at all!
Society as a whole functions on a linear trajectory: we cultivate natural resources and produce goods, only to throw them away or send them to the landfill after their use. As a planet with a finite amount of resources, this means that at some point we will run out of “stuff” to harvest and produce goods from and even lose valuable topsoil to grow crops. Composting takes that linear path and turns it into a cycle! Nutrients usurped from the land to grow food, for example, will re-enter the natural system as compost and help new plants to flourish. Another bonus of compost is that it’s a natural fertilizer, eliminating the need for manure or synthetic (chemical) fertilizers. Take a look at how I conceptualize the life-cycle of our natural resources:
But it doesn’t end there. After my morning with the Kindergarteners, I went to what is now Petach Tikva’s only community garden (see photos below!). I only had the chance to spend about 45 minutes there because I had a meeting with my Pedagogical Advisor, but I got to turn the compost and start a new composter for the winter season. In one of my future blog posts I will be sure to share all of the types of foods and herbs grown in the garden and the cool people I’ve met from the community (plus loads of kids). For now though, I will say that the garden is working through an exciting time because the שמיטה (shmita) year in Israel is over. Literally translating to the word “release,” שמיטה is every seven years. where Israelis are instructed of the following:
"You shall not sow your field, you shall not prune your vineyard, nor shall you reap the aftergrowth of your harvest." (Leviticus 25:3-6)
I am so excited to see where the year will take me in terms of working in the garden, working with younger kids on environmental stewardship education, and learning about different topics of sustainability in a more "hands-on" way than ever before. I know that my primary purpose in Israel is to be an English teacher as an ITFer on MASA, but I am relieved to be able to also learn about sustainability in Israel and apply the knowledge I have from college textbooks to the real world. I have a feeling Tuesday will become one of my favorite days of the week :)