Interview with a Cambridge Carrot

Helen Kobek's picture

The Life of a Carrot Destined for Cambridge Curbside Compost, Clean Energy Production

  • Photo image of carrot follwed by paper saying "+ 2 days +" followed by an LED lightbulb
  • Small, green, lined compost bin (about eleven inches, all sides) with Sharpie shown for size.
  • Hand dropping avocado shell into small, green, lined compost bin.
  • Inside view from above of single unit compost toter before being put on curb for collection.
  • Green curbisde toter for single units, closed and on street for collection.

I recently sat down with a Carrot at the Cambridge apartment of Chris and Liz to talk about readying to enter the new city-wide Cambridge Curbside Compost program. Please note: This interview took place the night before Carrot was picked up at curbside, and two – TWO! - days – DAYS! - later, Carrot was producing clean heat and electricity in the Greater Lawrence Sanitary District facility. Here’s my interview with a most delightful Cambridge Carrot:

Helen (H): Hello, and thank you, Carrot, for taking time to talk with me about your life and the process of becoming clean energy!! Tell us about yourself!

Carrot (C): Sure! Well, I’m a…I’m a Carrot. As you can see, I’m one of the long, thin ones which are sweeter than the stubby, thick ones. But, because of that thinness, things go bad for us a bit faster. Anyway, about two weeks ago Liz and Chris bought me and six other carrots. They made this wonderful carrot slaw recipe, but they had a couple of carrots more than they needed, including me. They thought they’d eat me, but they went out of town for a while, unexpectedly. I think they said something about a quick trip to New York, and left me here.

H: And time took hold…

C: Yes, and so I started getting a little floppy a week ago, and then the tip…here, you can see my tip…umm…here… (C. bends over to show their tip). And I’m pretty floppy.

H: Oh, it’s pretty brown on the tip, kind of soft all over. Oh, wow, you’re really flexible.

C: Yeah, pretty flexible. Yogic flexibility in Carrotland means not really nutritious. It’s all part of the life cycle. We get planted, we grow, we get harvested, we go someplace – maybe a nice restaurant, maybe to Liz and Chris’s house – and sometimes we don’t get eaten right away, and we start to go bad.

H: Yes, yes. So, tell us about what happens now, Carrot.

C: Some people in Cambridge have compost bins outside their homes, and some people do indoor vermiculture, composting with worms. But lots of people don’t have space for bins outside. Or they don’t know how to interact confidently with worms, or they worry that the worms will leave the bin and go looking for food scraps during a nice dinner party, embarrassing them as hosts. So, the City of Cambridge rolled out a city-wide composting program in April of this year.

H: Extraordinary.

C: Yes, it’s a great thing. Now, food like me doesn’t have to be tossed into a landfill somewhere to have no meaningful Next Step. I will have a meaningful Next Step. Soon, Liz or Chris will pull me out of the fridge. They’ll bend me and see that I can form an “o.” So they’ll drop me into their compostable-bag-lined mini-composting bin (small and green with holes so I can breathe and aeration prevents smelling) that they keep right there on the counter. When the little liner I’m in fills up, they’ll take the bag out, tie close it in a knot, and take it outside to the larger, upright, wheeling, green toter.

H: Goodness, you know an awful lot about this process.

C: Well, there was a lot of “buzz” about it in the grocery store produce area. We’re all excited about not just being popped into plastic garbage bags, brought to a dump and having no meaning. The Program gives us meaning.

H: It’s fabulous, truly. So then what happens?

C: When curbside trash and recycling pickup day comes, Liz or Chris will roll the green toter out with their trash and recycling toters. There might be a fight about who puts it out on the curb, on account of they tend to fight about little things, not understanding that life is short. But the toter will go out because Chris and Liz know that this matters. And the contents of the toter will be picked up and taken to the recycling place in Charlestown. There I’ll be macerated into slurry with everything else that can be composted, including bones, fish, meat, eggshells, cut flowers, napkins, and paper towels.

H: Oh, okay, now, tell us, what’s slurry and why is it important that you become that?

C: Sure. A slurry is a thick liquidy mush. When organic waste is mashed into a slurry, the composting process happens really fast. And when we slurry are brought to the Greater Lawrence Sanitation District, where we continue the breaking down process under anaerobic conditions, producing methane which is collected and used to heat the building there and to produce electricity. The solids from us are used as fertilizer in agricultural fields in Massachusetts.

H: So great. What else?

C: Now here’s the part that makes it all worthwhile: If I’m picked up on Wednesday, I start producing clean energy on Friday…Friday! Two days! This process is highly efficient.

H: Wow! That’s amazing! Two days from your solid-but-bendy state to mixed-with-all-others-and-producing-clean-energy state. That’s a compelling reason to get as much wasted food into the compost toter as possible.

C: That, and the fact that this program significantly reduces trash in landfills. A meaningless end. I’m hoping you don’t go to a landfill when you get bendy and brown, Helen. Where are you going to be composted, Helen?

H: Me? (Laughing.) Oh, well, in our country, people can’t be composted exactly.

C: Why not?

H: Well, it has to do with sanitation codes, and, probably, people not wanting to disappear, let alone turn into fuel.

C: Oh, that’s too bad. It’s meaningful to be turned into fuel.

H: Yes, but the closest thing we have to being composted is green burial, where a body is wrapped in a biodegradable shroud or a biodegradable box and buried. It’s becoming more popular in the US. The body is buried, decomposes in an unmarked grave, and after some years, another body can be buried there as well. We can also be cremated when we die, and our ashes scattered in nature.

C: What’s “die” mean?

H: When you die, you are not alive anymore. Technically, Carrot, you died when you were harvested at the farm.

C: Really? I’m dead? Then how can we be talking with each other?

H: Mysterious, I know. So, on the bright side, you’ve kept your nutrients until you lost lots of them and started getting brown and yogicly flexible.

C: And ready for the Cambridge Curbside Compost program! Do you think everyone in Cambridge will use this divine opportunity to bring food like me to a full circle of nature?

H: Well, I hope everyone who can will. It’s open to everyone in buildings with as many as twelve units. We know that if anyone has difficulties or concerns about how to make the Curbside Compost Program work, they get help trouble-shooting by calling the Department of Public Works (DPW) at 617-349-4800. We want everyone to make near-immediate clean energy with their bendy carrots! Carrot, it’s been so nice to have met and talked with you. Happy trails to your clean energy destination!

C: Thank you and nice talking with you, too. And do me a favor, Helen, would you?

H: Anything!

C: When you think of me, think this: That yogic Carrot sure did make a great kilowatt!

So there you have it. Our own city-wide Curbside Compost Program. You can follow this link to the City’s website to learn more.