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Forest Hills Composting Group Aims to Turn Over New Leaf on Food Waste

 The group composts food scraps from local residents.
Forest Hills Group Aims to Spread Awareness About Composting
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QUEENS — When Sakura Suzuki moved to New York from Japan seven years ago, she could not believe the piles of garbage of the city streets.

“I was horrified to see how much garbage goes to the landfill here,” said Suzuki, 41, a Forest Hills resident.

In Japan, she said, where natural resources are scarce, recycling is part of the lifestyle.

So she started looking for information about recycling programs on the New York City website and taking her food scraps to greenmarkets in Jackson Heights and Union Square that provide composting — until a similar program launched at the Forest Hills greenmarket in June this year.

The program, run by BIG!Compost with the help of The Forest-Rego Compost Collective, was a welcome addition to the neighborhood, said Suzuki, who joined the local group about a month ago.

Currently, the Forest-Rego Compost Collective consists of about half a dozen volunteers who are passionate about composting and trying to spread awareness about the importance of the process.

“It gives us nutrient-rich soil,” said Renee Rivera, 40, a social worker from Rego Park. “And we can do in a year what would take Mother Nature 100 years to produce.”

Rivera also pointed out that because the city’s landfills are full, the garbage New Yorkers produce is transported to other states, a costly process that further increases greenhouse gas emissions.

The Forest-Rego Compost Collective was founded last spring, when two locals — Jeremy Teperman, 24, and Carlos Pesantes, 40 — met at a master composter course, held every year at Queens Botanical Garden. The class, they said, inspired them to form a community composting group that would work for the neighborhood.

A local church — the Church-in-the-Gardens — offered them a site behind its building. The organization also bought a couple of earth machines, which turn food scraps into compost.

“Basically, we just make sure that there is an appropriate ratio between what we call ‘greens’ and ‘browns,’” said Chloe Bishop, 24, an educator at Randall's Island Park Alliance and a Forest Hills resident who joined the group last year.

"Greens" are fresh and moist nitrogen-rich materials, such as green plants, fresh leaves, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags and manure.

"Browns" are dead, dry, carbon-rich materials, such as fall leaves, straw and hay, egg shells, bread and grains, shredded newspaper and wood shavings.

The scraps must also be aerated.

At first, the organization composted scraps brought by members of the Forest Hills Community Supported Agriculture, which serves about 60 families.

But now the group said it’s ready to serve more residents and is looking for a bigger composting site.

Those interested are invited to participate in an orientation class, after which they can start bringing their food waste. 

“Everybody can do it,” said Rivera. She said people can put scraps in plastic bags and store them in their freezer or keep them in a special compost container, before dropping them off at the composting site.

Participants can later use the compost as a fertilizer in their gardens, the group said.

The composting trend has been growing around the city, said Gina Baldwin of BIG!Compost, a program of Build It Green!NYC, which provides food-scrap drop offs in Queens and Brooklyn and processes about 200,000 pounds of food waste a year.

In Queens alone, Baldwin said, there are at least 40 to 45 compost sites.

Many of the local composting groups receive assistance from the NYC Compost Project, created by the NYC Department of Sanitation in 1993 to provide compost education and outreach to residents, businesses and nonprofit organizations, according to the Department of Sanitation website.

The Forest-Rego Compost Collective accepts scraps on Tuesdays from 5 to 6 p.m. at the The Church-in-the-Gardens at 50 Ascan Ave. in Forest Hills.

The group will be conducting compost classes on Saturdays from noon to 1 p.m. (July 6 and July 27), and on Thursdays (July 18 and July 25) at The Church-in-the-Gardens. Further information can be found on the group's website.

Residents can also bring scraps to the Forest Hills greenmarket every Sunday between 10 a.m. and noon.