Religion & Beliefs

Getting Back to the Soil: Composting in Jerusalem’s Community Gardens

Downtown Jerusalem is cluttered enough at any time of year, but rarely more so than this past week. Posters for cleaning services and chametz sales imploring people to burn, sell, or otherwise dispose of their leavened bread in preparation for … Read More

By / April 21, 2008

Downtown Jerusalem is cluttered enough at any time of year, but rarely more so than this past week. Posters for cleaning services and chametz sales imploring people to burn, sell, or otherwise dispose of their leavened bread in preparation for Pesach were pasted on lampposts and notice-boards on every street. Jews are generally partial to consuming food rather than throwing it away, but this time of year is the exception to the rule.

Only a few minutes from my apartment is another exception to the rule: A place where Jerusalemites come each week to throw away their leftovers, no matter the season. Down at Bustan Brody, part of a city-wide network of community gardens, ecologically-minded Israelis bring their unwanted food to dump on the compost heap. The volunteer-run garden is a green oasis in the midst of five-story apartment buildings—an area which was once slated for development during Ehud Olmert’s stint as Jerusalem Mayor, in a bid to reduce the city’s budget deficit by selling off public plots of land for construction.

“We took responsibility for our own backyard, that’s a revolutionary concept,” says Abba Zavidov, one of the founders of the Bustan, which lies within easy walking distance from the Prime Minister’s official residence. “If we’re going to talk about sustainability then we need to prove it can be done. People bringing their kitchen waste to compost at the garden is a great way of showing how."

In Jerusalem, organic refuse like kitchen scraps and garden clippings make up around 40% of the city’s solid waste. If not recycled via composting, it typically ends up contributing to more of the brown landfill mountains like those straddling the road from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, which trick you into thinking that you’re still in the Judean Hills instead of speeding across the (once flat) coastal plain.

But it’s not just the Festival of Matzo that inspires a frenzy of food disposal: Figures published last week reveal that folks in my native Britain throw out one-third of all food they buy each year, including over four million apples. And they don’t even have Pesach as an excuse. Waste on such a huge scale has been partly fueled by cheap food culture and marketing ploys like ‘two-for-one’ offers, which encourage over-consumption.

I hope that Rabbis in Israel and the Diaspora will be using their sermons during the Jewish festival of freedom as an opportunity to reflect on the merits of environmental responsibility in a world where not everyone can take their food for granted. In any case, composting can offer a green solution to the stale matzo and indigestion-cookies due to be littering kitchens across Israel next week.

Tagged with: