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One of my jobs, when I was a youth, was to take the “garbage” out and put it in the pig trough. The “garbage” was in one of those little bucket-type trash cans that had a step-on pedal causing the lid to pop up, and the container inside it could be lifted out by the handle. This was where my mom would put vegetable peelings, wilted lettuce leaves, apple cores, etc. Only food waste items went in there, and when it was filled (it only took a few days since she cooked all of the meals for our family of ten people) this bucket was taken from the screen porch to the pigpen out past the barn. There it was emptied into the wooden trough as a treat for our sows.
“Trash” on the other hand, went into the wastebasket. Anything put into this tall container had to be burnable. Each evening the wastebasket from the bathroom was added to this receptacle then carried out to the burning barrel in the barnyard where, yes, you dumped it into a large metal barrel, and then set it on fire. It burned quickly because anything that ended up in that trash container was flammable. Your job was to stand there and make sure it burned without anything floating out of it, and even in a light snowstorm it would burn and, frankly, was a really fun job for a 10-year-old. I got to set stuff on fire! With permission! The only non-fun part of this job was washing out the wastebasket because no plastic bags were involved.
I tell you about these disposal memories to explain how little waste actually left my parents’ home when I was growing up. I realize that 60 years ago, there were many fewer packages in our lives. If my mother bought some bologna at the grocery store, it was wrapped in brown paper after being cut from the giant chunk by the meat guy. And the grocery bags were paper, which were saved and reused over and over. Yes, we subscribed to a newspaper; it was carefully piled on a shelf in the back porch to be reused for any number of things. Occasionally, my mom bought a loaf of Wonder Bread. Those bags were reused (after being washed out and dried each time) to keep her homemade loaves fresh for the few days before they were consumed. If a sandwich was made to be packed for eating away from home (a rarity, usually only during elk hunting season) it was wrapped in waxed paper. We did not use paper towels, we had cleaning rags. Our “canned” fruit, jam, veggies, even chicken meat with broth, was all done, by my mom, in glass jars which were reused year after year. Our milk came into the house in a recycled gallon honey bucket, then poured into two-quart Mason jars to be stored in the refrigerator.
I won’t even go into the amazing cycle of life that our alfalfa went through each year… let’s just say that the piles of “recycled hay” that we shoveled all winter from the milking barn, and the cow sleeping sheds, were redistributed back out onto the fields each spring to nourish that summer’s hay crop as it grew. It was the original Reuse-Recycle, with the delicious Jersey and Guernsey milk and cream as a by-product.
Springtime on the farm! Everything is melted and waiting for us to scoop it up and spread it over the field where the new hay will grow. (1969)
That hay in those large stacks was grown in a field that was fertilized by the “recycled” hay you see all over the ground in that photo with the cows. (1970)
So…when I got married (1974) and started my own home, I was accustomed to the low-waste lifestyle. I taught my five children the thrifty ways I’d learned growing up. We lived in Southern California, where I could go to an orchard and buy misshapen oranges by the bagful very inexpensively. I could also grow my own veggies year-round. I had a few chickens, and I baked all of our bread. I also found that recycling paid in California at that time! I’d drive around my neighborhood on trash days, and pick up all the bundles of newspaper that were set out for the garbage trucks. We had a vintage panel truck, so the children and I would spend an hour filling up the back section with old newspapers, then drive down to the recycling center where they paid me by the pound. It was enough to pay for all the milk we drank each week.
Now that I’m old and only feed me and Mr. CowGirl, what is my “new” thrifty? I still love to garden, but since I live here in the Mojave Desert that takes some creativity. Just a few inches below the surface of the ground is caliche: a cement-like layer of calcium carbonate. It does not facilitate plant life. However, with a raised bed, I can grow something all year round! I have found that the best place to get my dirt is from my own kitchen.
The first year we lived here, my birthday present was a compost maker. This wonderful version is the latest iteration of it; the first one had a metal tumbler, and it finally rusted through and was taken to the metal recycler. Every day, I have a little something to add to this barrel, and 24/7 it is “cooking” my new dirt. I dump in the peelings, or dead salad fixings, then give it a few turns, and in a week or two, the forces of nature have turned it into this dark brown soil I have in my hand.
We need to make a new raised bed this year, the planks have cracked and broken on the old one. But when it’s finished, I have a whole tumbler full of fresh soil to fill it with. The old stuff has been made into new stuff, and my former garden will help me grow my new garden.
This is a bowl of veggie debris left after I made a delicious cauliflower soup for dinner.
I put it into this container, and turn it a few times to mix. Inside of the tumbler, all this food waste is turning into black dirt that will grow me some new vegetables in my garden.Published in