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How I Stopped Obsessing About Worms and Learned to Love Black Earth (BE)


Written by Christina "Kiki" Lilliehook


I first became aware of BE when hanging out at a friend's house in Somerville. As she was prepping vegetables and fruit to cook dinner, she was putting scraps in a metal bin she kept on the counter. When I asked what it was, she told me she put food items in there instead of in the trash, and when it was full, she emptied it in a larger drop-off bin so that it could be composted. It seemed like a neat idea, but it didn't seem relevant to me, as I was already composting yard waste and had chickens happily eating various food scraps.


My second exposure to BE was at Cunningham Hall, when I randomly attended a 'green' event together with my son. At that time, I was thinking about electric vehicles and trying to figure out worm composting, which seemed like such a neat idea. The worms would eat the food scraps, and the chickens would eat the worms, in one happy circle of life. I discussed my worm theories with the BE representative, who in turn tried to make me see the light about BE and sign up for their service. I could tell he was puzzled about why I was harping on and on about the worms, but I was laser-focused on the worm idea and wouldn't budge. I still also struggled

with seeing the upside of BE as I was already composting.


A few months later, a connection on Facebook posted that they were using BE and shared a referral link, and just like that, I decided to give it a whirl. So, I signed up, picked up my barrel at a local site, and was off to the races. I printed out their cheat-sheet with lists of what does and does not go into the BE bin and went over it with all household members. Oh boy. This was a game-changer. Cooking grease! Meat, bones, fish leftovers! Pasta, bread! Dog hair (looking at you, Shedding Golden Retriever)! Soiled paper towels! To make everyone (including myself)

stop to think about what actually is trash, I placed a baking sheet to block the regular trash (pro-tip). I also got the metal container.


Around this time, I read an article in the NY times about how Columbus, Ohio had implemented food waste diversion programs. I don't remember much of the article but one detail stayed with me. One mom told the journalist that she had found some stuffed bell peppers in the back of the fridge that were past their prime for human consumption, and when her daughter realized their family had wasted food, she became inconsolable and burst into tears. This story made me think about some of our family habits with respect to buying and cooking food, and that I

hadn't made conscious decisions about some of those habits - they were just part of the daily routine while I was busy thinking about other things. But as I thought of the little girl and the stuffed bell peppers, I realized I wasn't particularly proud of some of our habits, and I became motivated to start to change them. For instance - how had it become normal to throw away food in my family?


During the first few months with BE, it seemed like I was throwing a lot of food in the BE bin. Leftovers, stale bread, veggies and fruit gone bad. On the flip side, it was definitely much nicer to not have the garbage bin be a gross smelly mix of unrecyclable stuff and food waste. But it also started to feel wrong to throw away food. As I''m coming up on my annual renewal with BE, I am realizing that we buy much less take-out food than we used to, and that when we do, and

there are leftovers, we eat them up (for the most part). We also have more conversations along the lines of what can we cook and eat of what we already have, as opposed to "let's order THIS" or "I want THAT". I also do a better job of meal planning and shopping for food, and then cooking it so it's not wasted. I'm still the family member most committed to eating leftovers, but I'm happy to see that on occasion, my kids either beat me to it, or fight with me over it.


Nowadays, when I look in the fridge to find something to eat or cook, I still think of the girl who became inconsolable about having wasted food. I'm getting closer to that level of dedication and am totally OK with that.

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