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Ravalli County Fair, Compost & Sustainability

A few months ago I got a bit of great news. I was delighted to learn that our local county fair added a new category for the year: Compost.

I had already failed on the goal I had set for myself last year. I intended to enter in two categories of knitted Natural Fiber , two photographs, two canned goods, and one entry in the floral department. I had nothing. But, I always have compost!

For weeks I had been challenging other gardeners, market farmers, and strangers to enter in the new ‘Compost’ category at the fair. Any unsuspecting person who happened to stand too long or too close to me invariably had to listen to my great plan to get a big purple ribbon at the fair for my compost.

Entry day found me lovingly screening a fresh sample from my compost pile. This pile was ready for use at the beginning of the season. With the drought and hot temperatures of August it was a bit dry. Yet, it was teeming with life. I had to spread the sample out on a large tray and remove as many of the visible organisms as possible: worms, sow bugs, centipedes, spiders, and even few small creatures flew away on their own. My husband admonished my efforts when he realized the sealed bag of life was going to be stranded in a hot fair building for almost one week. I found a few more creatures to save before sealing the bag.

I included a bit of a story about my composting process, the beneficial creatures I have found in my compost pile over the years and the casual visitors. I made a list of the creatures I rescued from the very 12 cups of compost that represented my entry. I had so much fun. Word arrived. Second place. A beautiful red ribbon. Not purple, frankly I think I like red more.

Today, I asked an eleven year old friend if she saw the ribbon on my compost entry. She is a bit of a city slicker. Actually, her mom gardens. Reminder: she is just eleven. Her nosed squished up and she asked me: What’s compost?

Floodgate of enthusiasm! I explained that my compost is plant matter left from from my garden after harvest, my kitchen scraps and other organic material that I layer with leaves and turn and nurture for a season to decompose into a nutritious amendment for my garden soil and the next year’s plants. Her expression remained quizzical. I continued: Everything that we take from the soil in order to grow food needs to be replenished. We have to return what we have taken. We have to look at our waste and figure out how to make it useful. Soil health is translated to plant health, and plant health provides humans with nutritious food. And healthy people are happier, they live longer, they are kinder and more generous and have more time to read and learn. If their health comes from their own efforts then that simply means that they have been outside in nature and they are not just looking, they are not just seeing, they are observing the interconnectedness of all of the elements in nature that comprise the web of life of which we are only one small part.

I realized I was explaining the essence of the word ‘sustainability’. All of us in the web of life are more resilient if the entire web is healthy. We better recover from illness, environmental stress and, for humans at least, economic hardship if we have respect for the environmental and community webs of life around us. If we all took the time to return more than we take from every element of our lives then we would live in a more beautiful and healthy world.

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