True or false? “If you’re a fan of compost, you’re a believer in holistic transformation.”
Now, if you’re scratching your head, let me educate you posthaste. Among gardeners and farmers there is what some might term a “weird cult” around composting and compost. Just go onto YouTube and watch some videos on compost. By the time you’re done, the levels of enthusiasm encompassing the topic will make you want to go out and, at the very least, pile some leaves even if gardening isn’t your thing. Holding a palmful of rich organic earth that was once a heap of decomposing veggies, while scientifically reasonable, is still mind-blowingly magical.
Compost is not only a brilliant metaphor for transformation, it is transformation accomplished.
I was reminded of this forcibly this summer as I was helping a colleague indoctrinate her North African landlord in the tenets of creating and using compost. His large property is mostly given over to garden, but he struggles against the elements when it comes to keeping his plants healthy and alive.
We nailed together wooden shipping pallets to make a “bin.” Then we began hands-on instruction in the critical art of layering and turning. Kitchen and garden scraps (nitrogen), twigs and pruned wood (carbon), and chicken manure (bacterial inoculum) were piled like a lasagna, which, when turned over and over again will ultimately transform waste and rot into nutrient rich compost that is “alive.”
While illuminating the joys of compost, the week that my colleague and I spent together also entailed sorrow.
The lessons in compost were my colleague’s last act in fulfillment of a promise to her landlord while simultaneously packing up to leave the patch in North Africa where she has devoted the last 12 years of her life and heart. Professionally proficient, culturally and linguistically dexterous, and brimming over with vision for transformation in her colleagues, clients, and friends, as well as her landlord’s garden, she looked to me like the perfect organic material helping nurture healthy radicles, roots, rhizomes, and relationships right here in the country of her heart.
But for some reason, yet to be identified, she was suddenly denied her annual work permit. As we labored together over suitcases and soil, I asked myself how in the world this could be while I remain. I who am still struggling to move beyond the basics in language after years in country, still suffering with imposter’s syndrome in the profession I claim, still endeavoring to understand what sort of contribution I bring to those around me, and (truthfully, at an extremely low period) questioning even my dedication to the moil of transformation. How could we afford to lose her? Why would God allow this loss when we are desperately in need of her experience and devotion?
Just weeks later, I don’t have an answer.
But maybe I need to keep thinking through the compost metaphor and take it a bit further.
If compost is transformation accomplished, then, of course, lots of time and turning are needed. Perhaps, I’m a bit of decomposing fruit, not particularly attractive at this stage but still a necessary component to the mix. Perhaps, while difficult to undergo, this transition for my colleague and organization is a bit of “turning” that will fling her efforts beyond our current sphere and jump-start the process of change like an inoculum in a field far wider than our imagination. Perhaps, God, THE Gardener of the World is not making compost for compost’s sake but transforming us and those in whom we invest into a rich, animated soil that will nurture and bring life – could it be? – even to the ends of the earth.
Up to my ears in change this season, I forgot for a moment why I’m a fan of compost: Compost is a wonderfully tangible, yet excitingly mysterious, handful of life-giving transformation.
About the Author: Kimberly is an IDEAS Associate and agricultural specialist. She works alongside local farmers in rural North Africa, giving them access to resources, techniques, information and hope. Enjoy other blogs by Kimberly, such as When a Stiff Upper Lip Doesn't Cut the Mustard.