Starting Point
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Issue Date:  January 28, 2005

Starting Point


My family has a compost pile in our backyard. Banana peels, coffee grounds and wilted vegetables from the back of the fridge all get added to the heap. We’re mixing it up, keeping it moist, and waiting for it to decompose. In the spring, we will spread it around our vegetable and flower gardens.

It is said that composting improves soil fertility, conserves dwindling space in our nation’s landfills, and is beneficial to the environment in a number of other ways.

We had it easier, of course, when we just discarded our kitchen and yard scraps. Composting requires some effort. But it feels right. As the earth fed us, we can feed the earth in return. Attending to our compost pile has even started to feel like a spiritual practice of sorts. What pleases creation must please the Creator as well, I tell myself.

Scientists from various disciplines report that much of our environment is being stressed to the point of irreparable damage. International issues -- global warming, acid rain, deforestation -- can be complex and overwhelming. So too local ones -- suburban sprawl, habitat protection, loss of open space. Fauna and flora the world over are threatened and endangered. It’s hard not to feel insignificant when pitted against political and economic forces so indifferent to ecological concerns. It is easy to despair. Any bond humanity may have once shared with the natural world seems long gone.

Our backyard isn’t very large, just a little grass for the kids to play duck-duck-goose. Come spring, we’ll plant a few tomato plants and some flowers to enjoy. A deed says we “own” the property, though really, God has just entrusted it to us for a while. So we’re trying to treat it right. With attentive stewardship, and perhaps a little compost, maybe we can increase the health and fertility of a small parcel of land in northern New Jersey. That’s not much in the grand scheme of things I suppose. But it is definitely within our reach. At the very least, our compost pile helps keep us mindfully reverent of the earth that sustains us.

Mark Graceffo writes from Jersey City, N.J.

National Catholic Reporter, January 28, 2005

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