Today was perhaps the most memorable day of my life as it relates to my gardening television career. In traveling the country to tell the story of people, places and organizations doing good things for the planet, I’ve had a lot of fun and seen some really neat places. But as host, I’ve never felt the freedom to really be “me”. Maybe it’s because I’ve been on someone else’s clock or payroll, but now that it’s my gig, I get to call (most) of the shots.
So when we taped today’s episode at Cedar Grove Compost, just north of Seattle Washington, I knew in advance I was going to love it. I’m a huge fan of compost and I love knowing as much as I can about it. Cedar Grove is the world’s largest commercial composting facility of it’s kind. So you can imagine, as an organic gardener with a fascination for healthy soil, this was my kind of place! I knew it was going to be a good day when within 10 minutes of our arrival, we were greeted by an aerial display of two bald eagles that frequent Cedar Grove for the treasure trove of tasty meals arriving by the truck loads.
Our tour began with our guest host and tour guide, Susan Thoman and Plant Manager / guardian angel, Sloan St. John leading the way. With the many trucks delivering the raw ‘feedstock’ as Cedar Grove describes it, and the constant activity of earth moving equipment, it is easy to see how one could be run over. In fact, in spite of reflective safety vests, it nearly happened to Leonard, our second camera operator!
Around mid morning, a constant stream of trucks hauling every compostable thing Seattle has to offer, from basic yard debris to restaurant food scraps begins arriving to the huge “tipping station” where their loads are emptied as fast as they arrive. Within minutes, a huge front-end loader is scooping up the deposits and moving them into a nearby grinder where they are carried away by conveyor belt as indistinguishable shreds of organic matter.
A very, very large pile quickly develops at the end of the line and another front-end loader is ready to scoop away the deposits which form the massive rows of material that will cook under a covered environment with systems to monitor and control the level of moisture, temperature and oxygen. With temperatures reaching 160 degrees, it only takes eight weeks to covert compostable waste into ‘black gold’. In the end, this earthly, rich dark gift of nature is refined one last time. Again, a loader transfers large bucket loads into a tractor-trailer sized machine that screens the material into three piles. The end result is a mountain of black gold, nature’s miracle, delicious, delectable and irresistible compost.
I’m couldn’t help myself. I just had to do it. With permission of my host and only a slight heads up to my cameraman, Carl, I made the plunge. Literally hurling myself into the heap which was calling my name; I repeated the process over and over. Taking in the shower of organic matter, I allowed it to cover my body and face like a child catching drops from a warm spring rain. It was exhilarating!
When the laughter finally waned from my guest host, Susan, for me, the euphoria continued. Covered from head to toe with soil completely coating my body, I didn’t want to wash away the memory. And although I finally did, the experience will live in my mind for the rest of my life. And for once, the cameras were there to capture the moment.