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[birds chirping] [peaceful music] – Hey guys, welcome back to It’s Alive with Brad Leone. I’m Brad Leone. And you know, I really want to use this platform to be able to show, oh my God, this soil is so hot.

[beep] It’s so hot on the ass there, bud. Hey guys, today on It’s Alive, we’re gonna be doing composting, organic composting. We’re gonna be making soil. We’re gonna start off in Brooklyn at a community garden with Vivian from Ground Cycle, where she runs a food collection program.

It turns people’s food scraps back into soil, and then we’re going to finish off in New Jersey, my lovely, beautiful home state, and meet up with Jay from Ag Choice and learn about the science of decomposition and what exactly is going on in these piles of compost, how it gets turned into soil.

And in the evolution of this show, we are going to be spending a lot more time outdoors these days. We’re going to be spending a lot more energy focusing on where food comes from, the people behind it.

We got a lot of work to do. Let’s get our hands dirty. Oh, God. [upbeat music] [peaceful jazz music] Oh, that smells so good. Thai basil. It’s like one of those things. It’s like catnip kinda, you know? [beep] You ever smell something sometimes and just get a little chill? You almost wanna, like, brr, you know? So I’m here with Vivian from Ground Cycle, and Vivian, so you run the composting program here? – I started this program when the pandemic hit and the city stopped collecting all compost, but with Ground Cycle, we do a farm fresh produce exchange, and I found farms to work with where I’m helping residents compost at home and turn their scraps back to food.

The whole idea is that you’re being part of the agricultural process by taking your scraps and bringing it back to the farm. You don’t really need to do any of the work and the farm does the work for you and you get the food right back.

– Normally, that would go where? To a landfill? – One third of New York’s waste system can be recycled and is organic. – A third of all New York City’s waste potentially could be turned into recycled.

It’s hard. It’s metric tons of garbage. – [Vivian] Yeah, yeah, for sure. – I mean, these should be everywhere. You know, how come, are they? Is there a lot of places like this throughout the city? – The reason why I connected with farms was because there were no options in New York City.

After the pandemic hit, a lot of sites for compost drop-off, they all stopped. – [Brad] Or shut down. – Yeah, so everything now that they collect is being sent to landfill, and when it goes into landfill, it produces methane gas.

– And composting, and turning into soil, instead of just, it would be putting, I mean, I’m assuming it would just be putting nutrients back into the ground, right? – Soil is a great source that can stop climate change because it draws down actually the carbon emissions that we’re producing.

And, you know, the soil eats that up. – I mean, soil is life. More and more as I do more episodes out of the kitchen and in the fields and with farmers and people who are, you know, rooted in, no pun intended, and rooted in our food system, it always just comes up.

How important, how vital soil health is, and how much more people need to be spending attention to it. Enough of me yapping. How can I help you make some soil? How can I get my hands dirty and help you here? You know, you got me for the day.

I brought some scraps that I’ve been collecting from my household. Although I think I might’ve messed up because I didn’t bring, like, from my kitchen. You know, I thought I was like, oh, I got a nice little garden at home.

I’m gonna show ’em that I like to garden, which I do. – So we can throw that into the compost pile, but when you compost, you’re mixing browns and greens. Browns being like sawdust, twigs, all of the stuff that has a lot of carbon, and then food scraps have a lot of nitrogen, and when you mix those two together, they break down.

– So it’s a fermentation. Everything’s breaking down. Things are getting hot. – Yeah, it heats up until, you know, 160 degrees, when you just mix these two things together and add some water. So it’s pretty magic.

– [Brad] Oh yeah, it’s amazing. – These are all full of food scraps that we’ve been collecting from the garden. The whole neighborhood has been coming every Sunday to drop off their food scraps. These are directly from household and from the same stage, not broken down at all yet.

– Well, there’s stuff going on! – I mean, there’s not liquid, if that’s what you mean, but we’ll take some molds. – There’s some smells going, yeah. – It’s not a bad odor, but you know, it smells like a hot bag of garbage.

Oh, it’s actually not that bad at all. It’s actually smells kind of good. It kind of smells like vegetable stock. – Yeah. All of these things that you see might look like waste but it has so much nutrient inside of it.

Is it only vegetable matter? If you had a fish bone, could you throw that in here? – So more industrial level composting can break down bones and dairy and meat and all of those harder to process items, but with some composting piles, you don’t want to add those things because rats and stuff, they’re attracted to that.

People do bring some browns. So you see this, like- – What do you mean, browns? Sorry. – Browns is, you know, like- – Literally brown things? – Yeah, like brown paper bag, leaves right here, you see. They’re just, you know, carbon-filled.

– Well, I brought garden scraps. – This material is great, and it can be added in here. – Yeah? – Yeah. – All right. I’ll do it. Little tomatillos, little tomatoes. – You’re gonna wanna rip up the bag.

– All right. So, like ripping it up? That’s how you kinda have it? – [Vivian] Yeah. – And then what, just kinda bury them up? – Yeah, and then this stuff, like, absorbs the liquid. That helps with the smell and everything.

– And then something’s growing on that. And then all of a sudden that’s turning into something and then it becomes a new thing and then it’s soil. – Exactly. [peaceful jazz music] Who doesn’t want that? That should be showing up at everyone’s doorstep.

Monthly! All right, guys, so we’ve got our compost here. I mean, what do you guys wanna do in this little plot? – Well, so we’re going to weed out this bed and then turn the soil and then plant seeds.

– So then, hey, you’re a real nice guy but Vivian, you never introduced me to your friend here. – Yeah, so Casper is a community garden member and leader who’s been helping us with this whole composting program here.

He’s the greenest thumb I know, so. – Yeah, all right, so Casper. I love to garden myself. I’m a big fan. This place, I can get lost in it, you know? – It’s a tiny garden, but we’ve got a lot going on.

I mean, we’ve got bees and fruit trees. – Yeah, you say tiny, but we’re also in the middle of Brooklyn, and people should be growing. I mean, this is beautiful. Anyway, put me to work. So you just start pulling out all these weeds? – Yeah, all these weeds.

– Oh, wow. – Was that not the move? – No, it’s perfect. – Oh, I was like, are you guys a little resentful? [Vivian laughing] – We’ll put this into the compost as well. – [Casper] Yeah, some of this is volunteer arugula.

– [Brad] What’d you call it? Volunteer arugula? – Yeah, so it’s arugula from last year that seeded itself. – Have you tasted it? Is it real bitter and peppery? – [Casper] You can try it. – Can I? – Definitely, go for it.

– It’s delicious. – Is it arugula? Cool. So I think we’re ready to turn this up. – You ready to turn it up, Casper? – [Both] Turn it up! – [Brad] Hey bud, let me turn it up. – Go ahead. – Let’s turn it up.

[upbeat music] Turn it up! – So I pepper a little layer of compost in, ’cause this is the soil that’s coming back after you guys collect it and that’s what’s coming back. I actually hand-sifted this stuff for you guys today.

– Oh, did you? – Yeah. – Well, thank you. So you can see some of like the wood chips still there because that’s what’s used to break down all of the food scraps. – So, we’re just mixing, right? – [Casper] Yeah.

– Turn it up. – [Brad] Turn it up, man. Oh, what’s in the bag, bud? – I’ve got some seeds. Here’s some lettuce seeds from a farm upstate. – Love these guys. The Hudson Valley Seed Company, and every package, the artists do their, like, every one is a different, you know, or every vegetable or whatever is a different.

It’s beautiful! How has the response been here for people bringing compost and community gardening? – I think a lot of people like the fact that they can participate, and you know, everybody’s, you know, growing herbs at home, starting like gardening in their apartment.

– Yeah, be a part of it, you know? All right, so we’ve got lettuce in the ground. We got all the weeds that we plucked out. Now we can put these back in the compost and go full circle on this, yeah? All right, Vivian, thank you again for showing me around this lovely garden and your composting system.

What do you got in your bucket there? – When you sign up with Ground Cycle, you get this bin full of produce delivered to your house. – Oh, beautiful! – Yeah. You can look through it. – Oh yeah! Well, that’s beautiful! – You give us compost and we give you produce.

– Oh, amazing. What a fantastic system. Why is composting good for everyone? I mean, why is it just something that, as a human being, everyone should be proud of and contributing to? – I think that literally anybody who eats can compost because we’re all creating that waste, right? So it’s really, everybody can participate in this one small step to be more sustainable and make the world a better place.

Grow healthy food. It’s a beautiful cycle. – Right, we need it. – Yeah, why not? It’s so easy, right? – No, I couldn’t agree more. I just want to say thank you again. I mean, this is amazing and I hope this just pops up everywhere.

It’s the work that needs to be done, and I’m looking forward to heading over to New Jersey and seeing the next part of this. Let’s get out of the rain, huh? – Thanks, bro. – Yeah, thank you. [plane engine roaring] [inspiring music] [beep] – I’ve never seen so much coffee in my life.

It smells like the bottom of old gas station coffee. – It all smells like money to me. [cash register dinging] – All right, guys, so we’re here with Jay from Ag Choice in my lovely home state of New Jersey.

And we’re at New Jersey’s longest running organic compost facility, and Jay is going to show us how we take food scraps and turn them into mountains of dirt to turn into vegetables. Are you taking it from supermarkets or restaurants? Is it kind of all the above? – Primarily, we’re getting materials from local grocery stores, distribution centers, food process facilities, industrial organics.

– So, like byproducts of industry. So, like, if somebody’s making cookies, and there’s a lot of whatever, leftover. I guess cookies is a horrible example, but I think, you know- – Well, it’s a good example.

We get a lot of bakery waste and dough and that kind of material as well. One of the things that we really try to do here at Ag Choice is to educate people on looking at food waste differently. It’s not a refuse, it’s a resource.

So here we convert it to clean organic soil and make a high quality compost and top soil. So right now we have one of our roll-off trucks coming in from one of our local grocery stores, and he’s going to have a mix of food waste, whether it be produce waste, meat waste, kitchen prep, all kinds of materials getting ready for the compost process.

– Give it a pull? – No, you gotta pull it that way. You’re gonna walk around with it and swing it right around. There you go. Stand back. And then you can just swing it and let it go. – Look at all those fruit flies! Good God! [retching] It smells so bad.

Oh my God. It smells so bad. Oh my God. Oh my God. I’m backing up. Retreat! – Come on, you gotta get in here! [Brad laughing] Come here! This one’s still perfectly good. You just have right at that for lunch.

– Oh yeah, you’re right. No, hell no! So I mean, you know, just from looking at it, there’s so much different types of of vegetables and produce and fruits in here. You would imagine this would be like some Grade A primo foundation of nutrients for soil.

I mean, you just have so much diversity. – So, these are really, really good feed stocks. Making a recipe, just like you bake a cake, you need certain ingredients to make good compost, and to compost anything without odors, you need to have the proper recipe.

So it’s a balance of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and a water source. – You’re a chemist. You guys are mixing things to make different, you know, put your nutrients in and have a balance. – It really is all about the science, and a little bit later on this morning, we’re going to meet our resident site scientist, Kristine.

So every day, we start out with that recipe. We lay this material out into row. We turn it with a specialized machine that mixes everything together, and then Kristine starts right away taking readings for oxygen, temperature.

She’s monitoring moisture content. – You do different types of proteins as well. And then how’s that work? – We’re permitted to take the full gamut of food waste. Meats, fish, dairy. So we can compost anything under the sun, including customers that don’t pay.

[tense music] And do it without odors. But the plastics are the worst problem. One of the biggest ones are those little food labels right there. – [Brad] Which we all hate already. – No matter what I do, I can’t get these plastic labels out of my soil.

– So to make your job the easiest and the most efficient, it just starts with the people. Simple things like taking out as much plastic in this garbage as you can. – Absolutely. So obviously we have our produce waste.

We’ve got some dry carbon materials in here. In that bucket was also some of those coffee grounds, which is a good nitrogen source. – Well, so you’ve mentioned the coffee too, because like, I feel like that’s something for people at home.

People go one way or the other that it’s like, no, you can’t put coffee in your soil. It’s going to blah, blah, blah. It’ll kill it. What’s your take on that? – So, coffee grounds are an excellent source of nitrogen.

So we use a large volume of coffee grounds and we also pioneered a coffee capsule recycling program here for an espresso. It’s good for the environment. We recycle all the coffee. We recycle all the aluminum.

– [Brad] So after you get, you know, a truck full of food scraps like this here, what’s the next process in the composting? – [Jay] So now we’re going to take this material and we’re going to start laying it down to the row that Kristine has designed the recipe for.

[dinging] – Nothing wrong with this cabbage. [classical music] – So these are called windrows. The idea behind these is you get all this material laid out here and then we have a specialized machine that’s the next part of the process that actually straddles over the top of this.

– Specialized. I love a good specialized machine. – Then you’ll like running this one. It’s pretty cool. [dramatic music] [machine whirring] – It’s very cool. – Well, this machine is the heart and soul of the composting operation.

So this is going to go down this row, it’s gonna straddle it, and it’s going to blend all our materials together. So the idea is it takes everything from the outside of the pile, brings it into the middle, and starts to mix it all together.

What we want to get is we want to get that carbon material mixed with all this nitrogen material, so the microbes that are in there can start doing their work to break things down. but they’re breaking it down in an organized way which is what prevents the odor.

[machine whirring] I’d like to introduce Kristine. She’s our site scientist. So basically, there’s no pressure, but if Kristine doesn’t do her job the right way, the whole company fails. Kristine, why don’t you explain the probe and what you do for it? – Okay, so the probe takes our temperature and oxygen levels inside the row.

It has to be located in the top third of the row. The stem is actually about four feet long, so it goes right into the center. We want to get our rows up to 131 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 days in a row.

That’ll kill off all salmonella, listeria, e-coli, and also weed seeds. So when you get the compost, it’s just going to grow really good grass or vegetables or whatever. – You know, that makes perfect sense.

Something that, you know. I haven’t really thought about it much until now, and I buy like organic composted soil and stuff, but I always wondered how come nothing bad grows in it? And you just answered that for me.

– Yep, so it’s called PFRP. It’s the process to further reduce pathogens, – [Brad] And if it starts to get too hot, do you have to- – If it starts to get too hot, we run the turner through it. – Okay, and then so, how long does it stay at this stage of decomposition? – Our rows generally finish within a hundred days.

– Does weather have a lot of factors with that? – The only time we have to worry about the weather is when it goes below zero. – Oh, wow. – We’ve had rows get up to 170 degrees when it was five degrees outside.

– Yeah, that’s amazing, right? – Yeah. The local wildlife love it. We’ve got turkeys roosting on top to stay warm. We’ve got a little coyote who likes to hang out in the back. We call him Scratchy. – No, it’s amazing.

– How I know the row is actually behaving properly, too, is- – I like how you use the word behaving. – It is. Well, they’re my micro-babies. – It is, yeah, yeah. – So, you know your kids are behaving when, do you see the white on the outside of the wood chip? That shows me that the bacteria and microbes- – [Brad] Can I touch it? – Yeah, it’s gonna be hot.

– Oh, wow, huh? So that’s a good sign, that little bloom. – [Kristine] Yeah, that means that everything’s growing and moving. – Well, thank you very much. – Oh, you’re welcome. It was nice meeting you.

– Site scientist. You know, I’ll tell you what, I’d love to have that title one day. Site scientist. Well, thank you. – You’re welcome. – All right, Jay. So what’s happening over here? – So this is our curing pile.

So everything’s come out of a row, but now what we got is we got all this compost that’s full of wood chips and small stones and little things that we don’t want to send out to our customers. So we’ll stockpile the material over here.

We’ll let it cure for another month or so. Kristine takes samples of all this product and then sends it out to a lab, and the lab is checking for everything from heavy metals to microbial activity. Once we know that the material is stable, mature, there’s nothing in it that we don’t want in it, and it’s ready to go for sale, I would go out here to this line of equipment out here in the back and what this does is it screens out all those wood chips, the stones.

It also has two vacuum cleaners on it that’ll pull out any little bits of plastic that may still be left in the soil. – Oh, amazing. So a last defense of filtration. – Absolutely. – You said it sorts out a lot of the large organic matter, like the wood chips, and so that stuff I’m imagining, that probably just gets sent back to the compost or is there another? – Absolutely, we’re actually able to keep reusing that until it’s completely composted down to nothing, – [Brad] Breaking it down, yeah.

– And the benefits of that is now that it’s been through the composting cycle, it’s teeming with beneficial micro life. So when you use that, reintroduce that into a new row, you’re introducing accelerated micro life into the start of a new row.

– Oh wow, so you’re using your filtered out, you know, not good product, not good product, and using it to inoculate your new batch of compost. Since you have it all sorted out already, I mean, can we load some up? – So I’ve got a truck.

We have to make a delivery today. So we’re going to go load up one of my trucks and send out a load of material. – Do you think I could run up to the top? Ready? It’s like those dirt bikes. You know, they have the big back on ’em.

Going up it. Do you think I can climb up it? No, you know I can’t. I’m not doing that to Jay’s black gold, man. I’m not disrespecting his business like that, you know what I’m saying? Jay, this is it.

This is the black gold, Jay. – That’s why my truck is named Black Gold. – All right, Jay. So what we’re dealing with here, this is the finished product. – [Jay] This is the good stuff. – Organic, complete compost from, you know, food scraps and and brown matter or whatever it was.

So, is it pretty much just done decomposing, done fermenting for that matter? – As you look at this, you’ll see there’s no recognizable food waste or other organics. And I gotta say, you know, the first thing I noticed is the difference in smell.

When it was in the rows, it had, like, a real sour earth kind of smell. It was hot garbage-y, in a good way, you know? – Yeah, absolutely. – And now it’s just, I mean, you can put this in your hand. – It’s got that nice, rich, earthy smell, like a forest floor.

– If you were in a forest and scratched up the ground. You know, it smells like top soil. – So the biggest things for healthy soil is healthy plants. So you and I have an immune system to fend off disease and bugs and all those kinds of things.

Plants don’t have that. They rely on micro life in the soil as their defense systems. – Right. – So gardens and areas that have heavy weed pressure probably have very, very poor soils. – Are places like this all over the country or do you feel like we should be doing a lot better job? – So what I tried to do when I started this company was show that you can compost, do it successfully on a smaller scale, and the big thing was we could duplicate this.

We could take my model and duplicate this anywhere in the country on a small to medium size compost facility, create jobs, make an impact. – Reduce, you know, landfill waste. – Here in the US, the old adage of, you know, dig a hole.

Let’s throw garbage in it and generate as much money as we can. – It’s catching up. – It is catching up. And it’s very problematic. I mean, we could dig into a landfill right now, dig down 150 feet and pull out a newspaper that I could still read to you.

– It’s the anti-soil. It’s the anti-compost. – It really needs to change as a society. Like what we were talking about with the plastics, with the land filling, we need to do a much better job. – And in ways, educate younger people about the food system.

– Absolutely. – Sounds like a win-win to me, Jay. – It’s a no-brainer. We’ve composted here, successfully diverted over 2 million pounds of food waste over the years. – That’s amazing. – So even on a smaller scale, you know, you can make an impact.

You can affect the community. – Absolutely, and Jay, you know, for folks at home, why is it so important for people to get involved in composting at home? – Most people when they flush their commode or they put their trash at the curb, they’re done.

They have no idea what happens to it after that. I’m not saying that you need to know the ins and outs of a sewer treatment plant, but you really should start paying attention to where is all this plastic going? What’s happening to all this food waste? Because the systems that are in place now aren’t working.

We cannot just keep dumping stuff in a hole, and to me, wasting it. And you’re never going to completely eliminate food waste. You know, I don’t know anybody that’s found a source for the outer husk of a pineapple.

So, you know, there’s always going to be waste product, plate waste. So it’s really important that we start looking at these as valuable commodities as opposed to just waste that we need to dump in a hole.

– No, I couldn’t agree more, and thanks for being a part of the change because without it, I think we’re in big trouble, right? – [Jay] Absolutely. [peaceful music] – I hope you guys learned a bunch about composting.

I know I did. You know, when I came in, I knew that it was important and that we should be doing more of it, but really what inspired me with this episode and the folks that we’ve met from Vivian and Casper to Jay and his team was the importance of composting on a human level, on a national, on a municipal level, the importance of keeping such potential, such rich garbage, as we call food scraps, out of the landfill and utilizing it into a system and putting it back into our soil, back into our earth, to produce more, you know, more nutrients, more nutrient-dense soil and vegetable and food, and whether you’re growing food or trees, it all starts at the soil.

And our part, our responsibility, as easy as it is to just compost. Gather, find out some community gardens by you, or farmer’s markets or facilities like Jay’s. You know, just do a little research, and hopefully there’s some stuff where you live.

Get involved. It might seem like a little bit of an inconvenience but if we all did it, I mean, let’s face it. That’s how change happens. Soil health is everything. I’m going to help Jay out. I’m going to finish loading up this truck with some of this soil, ’cause this organic, this black gold, as Jay calls it, this organic composted soil isn’t going to get to yourself.

Isn’t going to, oh Jesus, Brad. Just do the work. [gentle music] [truck honking] All right, Jay, so I mean- – [Crew Member] Sorry, I got it falling. – Okay. – [Crew Member] You’re okay. I just don’t trust it.

– Is this crew always this hard to work with? – Jay, I’m gonna need to speak to your supervisor, Jay, on the maintenance schedule on this here D-Cat. No, I’m just kidding. I made that up completely. Um, anyway.

.. My voice is shot. [film reel beeping] Hey, guys, welcome back to It’s Alive. That sounded like a [beep] game show. Today, we have four guests. They will all be challenging to get who will be the, oh, shut the [beep] up.

All right, ready? [upbeat music]

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