The Shell Experiments: And So, They Begin

With all this talk about zebra mussels, it was time to start mixing up a batch of compost. Summer on the lake had kicked into gear, and the piles of zebra mussel shells were slowly being smoothed and graded.

Alas, I am not a scientist by any stretch of the word and cannot pretend to be. But like any good cook, I know how to follow a recipe and find the ingredients I need.

For this particular experiment, I was on a hunt for poultry litter, sawdust and peat moss. And from there, I had to decide where to find these items at little or no cost, so I could understand how to build this idea from the ground up.

I knew the shells were in plenty of abundance on Lake Erie, but who might I call upon for poultry litter and sawdust?

I had to think about that.

Quickly, I realized I had an organic farm right in my own backyard. Just about two miles from my home in Old Brooklyn is a new farm that actually has a chicken house on the premises. Rising Harvest Farms is a wholly owned subsidiary of Koinonia Homes, Inc., a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. The farm occupies the property where the old Memphis School once stood and is designed to help developmentally disabled residents learn to farm and make money.

I had a wonderful conversation with Amy Anthony, who encouraged me to meet with Farm Manager Michael Bartunek. So I stopped at the farm one day and also met Andrea Heim, the Farm Supervisor, who graciously agreed to introduce me to the chickens at the farm. The three of us thought my experiments had merit and were willing to let me take home some batches of poultry litter.

Now poultry litter is exactly that — chicken poop — so I returned to the farm and gathered up a batch with a pitchfork and garbage bag. From there, I reached out to Sara Moledor, a student from the American University of Beirut who is getting her masters in Environmental Science. She graduated from Oberlin College with a degree in Environmental Studies and is living in Akron over the summer.

Sara seems to be a perfect fit for what I’m hoping to accomplish with these experiments. She knows a lot about composting and is interested in agricultural sustainability and anything that has the potential to enhance communities and livelihoods. She is currently working with her professors on a project that involves vermicomposting in Lebanon. Her goal is to figure out how worms can be introduced as a microenterprise.

Through her work, she wants to impact the problems that affect Lebanon’s solid waste stream by keeping kitchen waste out of the landfills. She hopes to stimulate the local economy while offsetting the damage of expensive chemical fertilizers and pesticides on the environment. After hearing how passionate she is about her work, I couldn’t have made a better connection!

I have so many things I can write about, but for now, I am grateful for the people who are helping me figure out my next logical step. Thanks, Tom and Darlene. We’ve come a long way in 50 days.