CROWN HEIGHTS — The artists of Excess NYC are turning coffee grounds to flower gardens and greening Central Brooklyn, one Bodega Bike-load at a time.
"The front part holds the edible food, and the back is a tumbler, and that's where we put the organics for composting," said artist Brooke Singer of the unique and eye-catching vehicle. "It gets quite a lot of attention, especially with someone sitting on the back and peddling the tumbler. That's a conversation starter to attract people."
Despite its local flavor, the year-old Brooklyn project is actually an offshoot of an art commission from Madrid, where the original bodega bike wheeled between markets collecting unsellable food for free distribution.
"They were the ones that raised the issue of food waste, because they were seeing a lot of people going through the trash looking for food after the economic crisis hit," Singer said.
"We built the first generation of the project on food rescue and building a mobile unit to collect edible but not sellable food from merchants and wheel it around the city and having people take food they wanted."
Now, Singer, collaborator Ricardo Zuniga and a group of dedicated volunteers are selling their success to local cafes and restaurants in Central Brooklyn, whose trash can be up to 50 percent organic, compostable material. Among their early partners is the newly opened Lincoln Station on Lincoln Place and Washington Avenue, whose coffee grounds the group collects for compost each week.
"We found there was already a lot of infrastructure around food waste. Dumpster diving, there's a whole movement around that, freegans and whatnot," ___ said. "Our project became a lot about composting too. There’s a pilot program in New York, but it didn’t seem like it was well distributed and a lot of people were engaged with it. We built the bike and the idea is to team up with local businesses."
What can't be redistributed will end up fertilizing flowers and vegetables in neighborhood gardens like the one on Sterling Street where the pair house their unique vehicle.
By redistributing or recycling unwanted food, they're helping to reduce waste. By biking around the city, they're raising awareness about a subject that's far from the minds of most New Yorkers.
"We're looking for vacant lots that would host expanding the compost site and allow us to grow that even more," Singer said. "Now a lot of it is about convincing business to change their practices. It requires creating a seperate space in the kitchen for scrap, but we save them money and reduces the hauling fees, and it can be part of making a greener infrastructure in the city."