Down and Dirty: Compost Day at the CEA

Editors Note: This article was written by Morgan Harden, a recent graduate of Kenyon College. She has degrees in Spanish Literature and English, with a creative writing emphasis, which she uses to write, translate, and share stories. Drawn to its story and collaborative model, she began volunteering remotely for Mano a Mano after her graduation. This work eventually led her all the way to the organization’s epicenter in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Morgan volunteered with Mano a Mano for a month in November 2017, and she recently returned to Cochabamba to spend a few more weeks with us, before she heads to Argentina to begin her Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Fellowship.

Yesterday was Morgan's last day with Mano a Mano (bottom left in the picture), and Mano a Mano staff and volunteers shared a meal to thank Morgan and say good-bye.

Morgan at the Center for Ecological Agriculture in early December 2017 (bottom left, in the purple sweatshirt, in the picture) with Mano a Mano staff and volunteers.

Morgan’s other blogposts:

    1. “This is Everything:” Medical Donations on November 17th
    2. Where it Starts: Mano a Mano Workshop #1 at the CEA
    3. Food for Thought: Mano a Mano Workshop #5 in Japo, Bolivia
    4. Step by Step: Mano a Mano Workshop #3 in Chapare

Down and Dirty: Compost Day at the CEA

It was all-hands-on-deck, a few days ago at Mano a Mano’s Center for Ecological Agriculture. Or rather, all-hands-in-dirt, as everyone banded together for “compost day.”

Months ago, when I first volunteered with Mano a Mano at the CEA, I helped a group of visiting students build a compost pile, as part of one of the agroecology workshops. It took most of the afternoon for us to build up the impressive pile. As the students rode away in their bus, I waved them off, thinking that was the end of that. Mano a Mano environmental engineer, Maria had promised me that the compost would be “ready,” in six months. Apparently, I didn’t catch the right meaning of “ready.”

On my first day back at the CEA, Maria took me outside, telling me it was “compost day.” As she had told me, six months is enough time for a compost pile to decompose. However, that doesn’t mean that everything inside the compost pile has decomposed completely or at the same rate. Because of this, compost can’t be taken directly from a pile and used in the fields, even if it’s “ready.” Instead, a compost pile has to be dismantled, separating useful compost from materials that need to decompose further. So, that’s what we did.

With a sifter ready, Maria and I dismantled the compost pile, shovelful by shovelful. The sifter let useful material fall through into the wheelbarrow waiting below, while keeping rocks and undecomposed materials out. The undecomposed materials, destined for a new compost pile, were set to the side. As we worked from the morning and well into the afternoon, I could’ve sworn the pile was bottomless. And, we weren’t the only ones working.

Compost day at the CEA.

Compost day at the CEA.

In the fruit orchard, another team, led by Mano a Mano agronomist, Camila, was preparing each tree for a layer of our freshly-sifted compost. Before compost could be spread, Camila and her group of volunteers had to clear out all excess plant matter and weeds. As Maria and I sent off wheelbarrows piled high with compost, Camila’s team sent back wheelbarrows full of plant matter, for future compost. They spread compost around the base of every tree in the orchard, thus supplying vital nutrients to the crops.

Camila spreading compost.

Camila and team spreading compost.

It was smiles all around, when we’d finally finished the work. At the end of the day, I knew more about composting than I’d ever thought possible. Like most of Mano a Mano’s projects, building a compost pile is just the first step in a longer process. It’s not enough to build it. You have to return to it and care for it to help it grow to its full potential. Though it can be a lot of work, it’s worth it in the end, to see new smiles and new successes.

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 Video Tour: Center for Ecological Agriculture



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