Craig Rush's Full Story

To understand and appreciate just how unique, inspiring and successful the Master Composter Program and its staff are, you must first understand my background. I am a person who was about as far from composting as A is from Z and enrolling in the program was a fluke.

I was born and raised a "city boy" and always thought fruits, vegetables and beautiful flowers came from the grocery store. As an adult I was (and still am) always amazed how farmers and gardeners accomplish what they do with some dirt, a little seed and some water.

As a Young Urban Professional I had this clouded vision that a successful gardener or farmer in the 20th century needed to know a lot about chemical fertilizers, chemical pesticides and the complicated growth cycle of the particular plants he was interested in growing. In fact, being interested in technology, I had read a little bit about hydroponics. This reinforced my naïve assumption that dirt was just a sterile medium (to perhaps support the plant and keep it growing up toward the sun?) and that all plants really needed was a continuous source of water plus the proper amount of certain specific chemicals and – voila – fruit bearing plants!

This all changed for me one afternoon three years ago when my oldest son, then in kindergarten, came home from school and announced that his class was planting a garden at school and how come we didn't have a garden at our home, anyway? I patiently explained that I was raised in and always had lived in the city, gardening was a very technological process about which I knew nothing, and besides I had never been instructed or licensed to operate a shovel.

Unknown to me at the time, my wife was within earshot and she, coming from five generations of Pennsylvania dairy farming stock (five generations on the same land, mind you), knew how to quickly solve this problem. She emerged from the garage carrying a garden spade, handed it to me and pointing to the handle said, "You start digging back there in that corner near the fence and I'll tell you when to stop."

While I was digging up a corner of the backyard, Sandy and the boys drove to Orchard Supply and returned home with two big bags of chicken manure, some tomato plants and a pack each of carrot and cucumber seeds. She told me what to do and we planted the stuff and it actually grew! I was very excited! I didn't know it could actually be that easy. Of course, the crop yield was nothing to write home about, but that was okay because Sandy doesn't really care for tomatoes or cucumbers or carrots and the boys won't even think of eating any vegetable. So that was my introduction to gardening.

Several months later I happened to be relating this story to a parent at the preschool we attended. She interrupted me midway and said, "Oh, if you're gardening you must make compost!" "What's compost?" I said. "It's garbage!" she said and she handed me a flyer from San Mateo County RecycleWorks.

And the rest, as they say, is history. I'm sure I made Jacqueline's (RecycleWorks' Composting Program Coordinator) day when I called to order a BioStack and asked her if I should purchase a flu pipe to exhaust the methane flame that I was sure would erupt from my compost pile! She very slowly and very, very patiently explained that the neighborhood was not in any danger and there would be no flame.

I received an excellent initial indoctrination at my first workshop from the "Colonel", a seasoned Master Composter, who countenanced all his attendees that the proof you have reached composting Nirvana is evidenced by the fact that you find yourself chasing the gardening service trucks through your neighborhood and convincing them to dump their loads in your driveway.

The Colonel stuffed my head full with lots of great nuggets of composting information and I made several reasonably good batches of compost over the next 6–8 months. At that point I thought a refresher might be in order. As I was perusing the web site for workshop dates I happened across the Master Composter information and decided to give it a try.

Alane presented a semester course that was part biology, part ecology, part recycling and lots of inspiration. And with a student as naïve as me in her class she needed a lot of that inspiration for herself. She presented a lot of information and all of it clearly articulated and well thought out. We had lots of fun and every concept was either demonstrated or we practiced it. The guest speakers Alane brought in were complementary to the subject matter and professionals in their fields. The program was extremely complete — in our notebooks were even several suggested outlines for workshops of various lengths. Also, post–graduate, Alane still communicates via e-mail and is available for questions. She even picked up the ball and started the "poop–loop" – a very valuable resource of raw material for Master Composters.

Some of the wonderful, global lessons I have learned include:

  • By composting a person begins to understand the "circle of life," feels more connected to the earth, and as a result begins to be more respectful of the Earth and its resources. I, for example am now contemplating contour watering, native plants, and collecting winter rainwater from my roof.

  • Composting is a lot like cooking — there are many recipes and they all work.

  • There is a composting recipe to fit everyone's lifestyle.

  • There is one universal Law of Compost – Compost Happens!

  • Soil is actually alive and is called "Living Soil."

  • There are beneficial microorganisms, beneficial insects and organic gardening really works! (As proof I offer the fact that I bordered our vegetable garden with Marigolds and achieved outstanding results.)

  • Vermiculture aids the overall composting program by enabling one to compost additional items and adds an extra benefit, worm tea.

Any program that can take a lifelong urbanite and convert him to not just an active composter but a volunteer Master Composter, willing to give up evenings and weekends to go out and inspire others to do the same, is truly worth its weight in, shall we say, compost. This is a very valuable program to have in our community and I am proud to be a part of it.