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I'm in an Open Relationship with My Compost

There were two weeks where I didn’t turn her because I was pissed off at her. I turned her last week. You can’t believe how much it stresses me out if I don’t turn her. I seriously think about her every day.

by Matt Orlando
Jan 30 2016, 6:00pm

My relationship with compost began the day we opened Amass. That was the night we produced the first kitchen waste. I started throwing all the shit into the crate and I let it go.

I didn't do any research on it. It started smelling so bad that I was like, What the fuck? In being naive about the process of compost and how it's done—because I was an idiot, and didn't research it—I eventually realized that what was happening was anaerobic fermentation: fermentation where there's no oxygen getting in, so all the good bacteria was dying. Rotting. Compost should technically decompose. This was when my hatred for compost, in the best way possible, began.

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Now I've figured out that you have to turn it often, like once or twice a week. I didn't. It wasn't even in my thoughts. And when you turn it, you need to add carbon. You have to have this balance, of 50 percent carbon and 50 percent nitrogen. But sometimes, she doesn't always want 50 percent. She's a moody bitch—I'm serious. There were two weeks where I didn't turn her because I was pissed off at her. You can't believe how much it stresses me out if I don't turn her. I seriously think about her every day.

Fuck, I need to turn her.

Ugh, she's rotting. Sometimes you'll turn her and she won't heat up like she should when it's going well. You literally start saying out loud, "I don't want to turn you again. I just turned you. Why won't you work?"

It's this ongoing thing.

The last two weeks, I didn't turn her, but in the back of my mind, I had this subconscious guilt. When I finally did, I felt this massive relief. It was like a huge weight off my shoulders. It's crazy. I never imagined having a relationship with eight boxes of compost. My wife doesn't know; I feel like she'd think less of me as a human being.

mattintroducingHER

Matt Orlando and "her," his beloved compost.

For a while, we were putting corn in there and I guess the husks would dry out and become carbon. Having too much carbon in there would make her inactive. But when you start putting more fresh compost in, you always need to remember to put more carbon in. You can always add wood chips. Or grass.

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On Saturday nights, I go out to visit the compost after service. It's sort of like zen time for me. It's so nice out here, especially in the summer at dusk. After you've had a crazy service, it's nice to look back into the restaurant and see all the guests having a great time. When the guys are cleaning down, I'm out here with her.

Sometimes, she doesn't always want 50 percent. She's a moody bitch. There were two weeks where I didn't turn her because I was pissed off at her. I turned her last week. I seriously think about her every day.

Compost is so important for Amass. We have not thrown one piece of organic waste into the garbage since we opened. Only bones, onions, and lemons. Those are too acidic and you can't use them. We give all of our green kitchen waste to Christina, who raises the chickens that we get our eggs from. Her eggs are amazing in the summer because the chickens eat grass, but in the winter, they can't because it's too cold. This allows her to feed them all year long.

Earthworms are the other things that you develop a relationship with. We bought 500 from Germany. They come in a little bit of dirt. Before they arrive, you take some kitchen waste and let it decompose a little bit. Then, you mix it with shredded cardboard and throw them in there. The bottom box is white, and on top of that is a stackable box with tiny little holes that houses all the dirt, kitchen waste, and earthworms. Those little guys start to go mental. They eat everything—all the way through the waste and cardboard, all the way up to the third box. That box has bigger holes in it. They leave behind dirt. So much moisture is developed in the process that it drips down into the bottom box, so we aerate it with a fish pump so it doesn't ferment. We use that liquid to make the tea that feeds the plants in our greenhouse. We take the compost from the last box, and mix it with the worm drippings and some water. Then, we aerate it, make it come alive, and use that to spray on the plants in the greenhouse.

I never thought about doing stuff like this in the States. Roberta's in Bushwick has managed to do some fantastic things, but they have a very unique location with a big lot that they bought next to them. In the United States, you can never be this close to nature inside a city. When I saw it, I was like What the fuck? To have a restaurant in Copenhagen on the waterfront with a large backyard and a full working garden is crazy. I've never heard of that anywhere else with something like that besides Roberta's. And they fought for it.

I'm pretty close with the earthworms. It's like I'm raising them. At some point, the carbon balance was off and every time I turned the dirt, I'd find these shriveled up earthworms. They kept dying. I started stressing out. I called my mate, Mikkel, who knows about these sorts of things, and he was like, "I'll be right over." He brought this weird nutrient spray that kills the fungus and started spraying it in there. We managed to resuscitate them. Two weeks later, I reached in and found that it was exploding with earthworms.

All of these things are supposed to be soothing—making compost, turning compost, and raising earthworms. I'm not going to lie, because I find a way to stress about them. But I'm not the only one: there are a lot of people in Denmark that are obsessed with earthworms. There was a guy in his mid 50s who ate at Amass four months ago and was a proper earthworm expert. That's all he wanted to talk about. In some strange way, it made me feel a lot better about myself.

I don't really have that many friends I can talk with about these things, you know?

As told to Ian Moore

This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in November 2014.

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