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  • The Chopping Blog

We Are Why We Eat

Erin Prak
Posted by Erin Prak on Aug 21, 2019


I’m fascinated by the intersection of hospitality with conservation and community. You can’t have sustenance without sustainability.


I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have the best green habits (yet), so I love that The Chopping Block is big on composting. The Merchandise Mart is also LEED Gold certified, and offers composting as a building service--neat! We use metal buckets for collecting organic waste (see Knife Skills pic above), and it’s interesting how often people ask where to put compostable material even when the bucket is right in front of them. Honestly, I’m more surprised at my assumption most people were familiar with composting. 



Hence, I felt inspired to turn to a couple friends for their thoughts on composting. Dr. Rachel Shefner is Associate Director at Loyola University Chicago’s Center for Science and Math Education, and the reason I have any concept of composting life. She’s also my best friend’s mother and lives in the house behind the lush yard pictured. LaManda Joy is owner of City Grange, founder of Peterson Garden Project, and my favorite weekly garden party hostess. So much appreciation to both of them for letting me pick their brain (responses are unedited)!

How does composting play a role in your life? 

Dr. RS: It is pretty easy to integrate it into daily life. The coffee grounds always go in there to start the day, as well as egg shells and water vegetable waste goes straight from the cutting board top the compost bucket. Shucking corn happens outside so it can go directly in. I do think it is much easier to do when living in a house than it would be if we lived in an apartment. Yard waste also goes in there, unless it is something that we don’t want seeping back into our garden. We even bring back our scraps to compost if we are on a picnic or at work and do not have compost there. 

LJ: As a gardener, I know that organic material in the form of compost is the best thing to be done for one’s garden. Also, the best thing to be done for keeping excess material out of landfills. 

Why did you start composting? 

Dr. RS: Free bins were available at the North Park Village Nature Center, and we used to go there a lot so we picked one up. As mentioned above it is pretty simple to keep doing once it becomes a habit. I do like that it cuts down on the garbage we produce. 

LJ: Sadly I can’t compost where I currently live. We “bought a yard with a house attached to it” with the express purpose of having an organic food garden and our next door neighbor made such a fuss about our composting efforts we stopped for the sake of neighborly harmony. 


For what purpose(s)/application(s) do you compost? 

Dr. RS: Pretty much just for waste reduction and keeping stuff out of landfills that does not need to be there. We also use the compost in the garden when we winter it over and in the spring when we plant. 

LJ: Every spring we put compost on our own raised beds and sell a variety of it at our business City Grange. I also recommend it to Peterson Garden Project gardeners as a way to refresh and revitalize their soil every spring. 

What do you believe are the benefits of composting? 

Dr. RS: Personal reduction of household waste and decreased reliance on compost to buy. Clearly it makes sense to reduce garbage pickup and disposal which can have ripple effects (air pollution, fuel consumption, etc).

LJ: So much food waste goes to landfills where it just becomes part of a bigger problem. Home composting, and new services that do it for you like Healthy Soils Compost, helps us decrease our footprint while taking advantage of the full cycle of food. 

How has composting changed your views on waste and the environment? 

Dr. RS: We have been doing it for so long, that is hard to answer, but it certainly has my views on all of those things become coherent and consistent. 

LJ: Even in an urban area like Chicago there are companies working to make home composting available to everyone no matter what your outdoor space allows. We partner with Healthy Soil Company to compost plant yard waste at City Grange and will be doing more in 2020 to help support these important efforts. 

For more info, check out the EPA, this TEDx, or this TED-ed. As a city dweller with no garden, I’m into the idea of a pickup or dropoff service, but would build one if I had space. Fortunately we just started carrying this cute little composter, and I’m thinking this might just do the trick!

composting bin

Topics: sustainable, compost, food waste, leed

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