Louise Bruce always walked by the vacant lot on the corner of Newkirk Avenue and 8th Street with her dog. While most would see the lot as a desolate patch of fenced-in weeds, Bruce saw it as an opportunity.
"My boyfriend was so sick of hearing me say, 'I'm meant to do something with this lot,' " she said.
At the time, Bruce was employed at Green Apple Corps, working with composting and ecological restoration in New York City. She and one of her coworkers decided to track down the owner of the lot, a local doctor who they eventually met at his office. They explained what they envisioned for the lot - "a place where the community can compost and reduce their impact in terms of waste, but [also] demonstrate how compost can be used to really revitalize and beautify a neighborhood," said Bruce.
Bruce and her coworker could never have hoped for such a positive response. Twenty minutes into the conversation, the doctor was sold on the idea.
"We walked out of there with the keys to the lot," she said.
Since then, the small lot has turned into the site of Compost for Brooklyn, a community composting project where local residents can compost their food scraps. In the past six months, over 20,000 pounds of food scraps have been brought in by neighborhood residents to be turned into nutrient-rich soil for the Compost for Brooklyn garden, local street greening projects, and other public projects in need of soil.
The lot is made up of a shed and several large bins which move the food scraps through the process of composting. No machinery or expensive equipment necessary - composting is a simple, natural process.
Along the periphery of the lot is a narrow garden with native plants donated from the High Line and the Parks Department, using the compost soil.
"We started using the compost in the garden, and that's when people really had this Aha! moment," said Bruce. "As in, 'Oh! I get what I'm doing with these food scraps.’ "
Now, 27 volunteers host open hours to collect food scraps for composting every Thursday and Sunday, and the organization has hosted several outreach events through other community groups and organizations, neighborhood schools, and regular workshops discussing waste (they call them "Trash Talks"). The once vacant lot now hosts an average of 320 visitors a month, bringing in food scraps that would otherwise be trucked hundreds of miles away to take up space in a landfill.
"It's a valuable resource that we are making totally inaccessible to ourselves," said Bruce. "[Composting] is something that anyone can do."
Beginning mid-March, Compost for Brooklyn will be partnering with Newkirk Cares Collaborative to host Street Gardening Workdays, where locals can sign up to help build tree guards along the Newkirk Avenue Corridor.
The workdays, taking place March 18, April 15, and May 20, will be an opportunity to work with neighbors to help keep the area green, while learning about woodworking and composting. Everyone is welcome to come help out - just show up at Compost for Brooklyn at 10am on any of the aforementioned days.
For Bruce, Compost for Brooklyn is about more than pushing for environmental sustainability, it's about bringing people together through a good cause.
"People start composting with us because they care about the environment...but I think they keep composting because of the social element," she said. "We are seeing something really magical happening in this neighborhood by people just dropping of their [food scraps]."
Drop-off Hours at Compost for Brooklyn take place Thursdays, 4:30-6:30 p.m., and Saturdays, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.