Scott Koepke from the New Pioneer Coop (Iowa City) recently came to Hiawatha Elementary to teach us about composting. Here is the Compost Club’s interview with him. The Compost Club is a small group of Hiawatha 5th grade students who are leading our school’s new composting project.
Compost Club: How did you learn about compost? Was it in school?
Scott Koepke: I wasn’t taught composting in school. That’s partly why I want to do it now for the next generation. I didn’t formally learn until I studied urban agriculture with Will Allen at Growing Power in Milwaukee in 2007 (www.growingpower.org). I don’t have many, but he is one of my heroes & mentors.
Compost Club: What first got you interested in plants and soil? When did you start composting?
Scott Koepke: My grandmother, Helen, my mom’s mom, was the first person to introduce me to plants & soil when I was a very young boy. One of my earliest memories is picking green beans with her. She passed on a lot of ancient wisdom that she had been taught as a farm girl about how to work with nature, not fight it. When I was an adult, I joined the Peace Corps after college, and that’s where I really started to strengthen my knowledge & passion for gardening — not just for the food it produces, but the lifeskills it teaches. I also was lucky to grow up next to some woods and a creek to play in everyday. Nature was/is my classroom!
Compost Club: Is composting expensive?
Scott Koepke: Composting is free! All of the source materials, both the greens and the browns, are all laying around all over the place if we just collect them. And the wooden shipping pallets that I use for corrals can also be given away for free at most of the stores that use them if you just ask politely.
Compost Club: Do you have a garden? Is it big or small? What do you grow in it?
Scott Koepke: Yes, I have a personal garden in addition to the many community & school gardens I help out in. My garden at home is 400 square feet. I grow lots of vegetables, flowers, herbs, grains and beans. I even grew some rice last year, believe it or not! Also have some fruit: raspberries, blueberries, apples, and last year started some ginger root.
Compost Club: What is your favorite part of nature?
Scott Koepke: Great question! I’d say a few things: a.) soil, since that is what the plant needs for nutrition and, like I always say in my classes, when we make compost we’re helping build that part of the soil that provides nutrients to the … next favorite part of nature for me which is b.) roots! One of my favorite spots in nature is that place where the root connects with the soil. That’s where the nutrients are absorbed (the “door” opening & closing to let the nutrients in, like I said at the class the other day for you guys). And finally c.) change. Nature teaches me so much about adapting to changes instead of being scared of them. Whatever life gives us, we can make choices to transform it into something positive!
Compost Club: What other schools have you helped with composting?
Scott Koepke: Other schools I’ve helped recently on composting projects are: West High School, S.E. Junior High, Longfellow Elementary, Tate Alternative High and Prairie Point Middle School.
Compost Club: When will you stop composting, if ever?
Scott Koepke: No, I’ll never stop composting!!!