Building Compost at McClymonds High School by Maya

Planting Justice runs weekly garden based courses at multiple high schools in Oakland, at Fremont High and McClymonds we have built the gardens from the ground up. At McClymonds high school our first task was to build raised beds, we started with a few beds which quickly turned to many and now we have fifteen raised beds at the McClymonds garden! And though we just last week planted bush beans and peppers in our newest raised bed, it is time already for a new addition to the McClymonds garden.... a composting system!

You know, we at PJ are serious about composting the empire and on Wednesday, we learned just how excited the McClymonds community is as well. Everyone from school security officers to after schoolteachers and students were happy to hear about our construction project and some even lent a hand to the effort.

Measuring, sawing, drilling, and assembling structures. Cutting hardware cloth. Using a staple gun with compressed air. These are all things students and teachers got into today. Turns out Mr. Bennie (from the McClymonds Alternatives in Action after school program) has some good tips when it comes to construction, maybe it’s that tree house show he has been watching?

All in all it was a blast of a project that still has a ways to go. Working on the compost bins opened up the space for students to dream about what their garden space could be and served to inspire students one of whom shared that he felt like they could build something of his own in his backyard. We know the spark of building, making, and growing goes beyond the garden and into students’ homes and communities.

The compost bin project clearly serves multiple purposes or functions like all of Planting Justice's activities. The more practical purpose has broad political and social implications worth exploring: we are diverting waste!

Why is diverting waste particularly important in West Oakland? Because it is frustrating and wrong that many Oakland communities abound in trash, liquor stores, and blight while they simultaneously lack adequate green space and access to non-processed foods.

How can we address the situation of so much waste and so little bounty?

Recently, as I walked some Berkeleyan friends the few blocks between McClymonds High School and my house in West Oakland they expressed their surprise at the trash, food wrappers and industrial wasteland we navigated. And they weren't wrong to be shocked, everyday I walk home from the garden at McClymonds I see fast food wrappers, rolls of illegally dumped carpeting, clothes, ten gallon buckets, food scraps, and the ever-present swisher sweet cigar wrappers.

I didn't grow up in Oakland but it certainly didn't take long for me to see all of this garbage and pass by it without a care or thought. My inner optimist tells me that maybe I don't notice the garbage as much because I am looking for and finding all the beauty this city has to offer -- circling hawks, street art, old trees, beautiful people, the list goes on.

But I digress; the point here is that for people who grow up in West Oakland and East Oakland's less developed neighborhoods a landscape of trash becomes normal. Building a compost bin in West Oakland's food wasteland is an opportunity to capture and re-create life; an opportunity to use the breakdown of death to recycle nutrients, building a resilient self-sustaining system.

An opportunity to sow new seeds...and no, I'm not just talking about plants.

Maya signing off with the best of intentions and faith in a bright future!