Last month the Planet Repair Institute was visited by two officials from the City of Portland who were interested in learning more about our neighborhood’s efforts to manage our own biomass and organic matter locally and as a community. In light of massive budget cuts looming at the municipal level, city departments are at a loss to understand how they are going to continue providing existing services and maintaining municipal infrastructure.
At Planet Repair Institute, we are working with the city to answer this question by modeling ways that neighborhoods can be empowered to provide these services themselves, while building face-to-face connections between neighbors, instilling a sense of collected responsibility, reducing cost and energy expenses, keeping resources and efforts localized, not to mention keeping people fit and healthy!
Every Autumn, the trees in our neighborhood drop massive volumes of leaves onto paved surfaces that prevent nutrients from cycling back to the soil. The leaf litter also tends to clog sewers causing all the runoff in the neighborhood to flood our streets. The city of Portland has a leaf collecting service payed for by tax-payers, however we learned that 90% the leaves that the city collects ends up in landfills anyways! While the remaining 10% may be composed in municipal facilities, the entire process of transporting biomass to composting sites and then back to our neighborhood is energy intensive, costly and creates pollution.
With this in mind, we have been working on creative solutions to keep our biomass in the neighborhood and to cycle local nutrients back to our soils, while involving our whole neighborhood in the simple but revolutionary practice of stewarding our shared landscape. On several occasions this fall, we took to the streets as a large group to reclaim this leaf litter from the streets and sidewalks. We used the collected biomass to mulch the garden beds from our neighborhood co-op garden patches and local fruit trees. We also built slow decomposing “leaf mold” piles (leaves aren’t very desirable in large hot compost piles because bacteria don’t break them down very effectively, however, piling leaves in a “leaf mold” pile attract worms as well as fungi which slowly break the leaves down into beautiful humus).
We began reclaiming biomass on our own initiative simply because we understood all of the benefits of using this as a valuable resources rather than treating it as a waste product. But, as soon as these officials from the City of Portland caught wind of these efforts, they came to observed and to inquire how this model could be emulated or encouraged in other neighborhoods by providing tax breaks or other incentives. We envision our neighbor’s efforts to steward our own biological resources as something that may begin with leaf collection, but as municipal services continue to feel the crunch, this localized and co-operative model could also be applied to the management water systems, energy systems, waste disposal, and even humanure!